I lay on soft grass, looking up at tree branches, yellowing leaves, blue sky. Without my glasses, details gone, I listened to the wind, watched it play above me. The occasional bird (how many used to be? how many now?) would flit across my frame and my shoulders would sink deeper, the ground beneath rising up in embrace, lapping over the edges of my body like slow waves. A leaf fell, and I watched it descend with grace, landing beyond my vision. In stillness, I surrendered to decay, this is what its like, to become compost, lacey, skeletal. The trees sighed with pleasure, saying how good it is to watch this world, full of phenomenon, blessed with movement and personal trajectory. Compassionate to the yearnings of fast life, they whispered bittersweetly of our illusions, witnessing, as all good elders must do. The yellow of the leaves. The blue of the sky. Fresh moment.
We skipped town, leaving the throngs to enjoy Hardly Strictly and the October Sun, and arrived in Shasta County in the late afternoon. Walking back to the car after lunch, the kids squealed at the discovery of acorns, their beautiful humbleness littering the concrete in front of the Cascade Theater. Gathering was part of my secret agenda for the weekend. No time to start like Now.
The Cascade Theater is part of the heart of downtown Redding, across from the historic Hotel Redding, which despite its landmark status is still the cheapest place to stay in town. A colorful couple, the woman in a wheelchair, stopped to watch our collecting. Yes, you really can eat acorns. What do they taste like? Soft, bland, sweet. She liked my tattoos. She pulled her shirt over, displaying her chest piece. I got it when I was 63, she said. Her husband looked at me and said Acorns. Hogs love ’em. Their little dog yapped at the kids. Oh Redding.
Red Oak leaves can be distinguished from White Oak by the way the leaves taper off into points (as opposed to rounded) and often have little prickles on the ends. Red Oak acorns have a lot more tannins than the White, Valley or Blue Oaks.
Saturday Morning we made the long, five minute trek, to Nash Ranch. Fern and I fell in love with their harvest festival last year.
We let the afternoon linger and stretch. We gathered in the front yard, having to dodge the occasional missile from above. It’s a good acorn year, and the trees were in the process of joyfully throwing down, sometimes, I think, purposely trying to hit us. More collecting. No holes, no cracks, no grubs, the kids chanted.
We began processing, first doing the float test to filter out the bad ones.
While the kids collected, I did my own gathering…of the bizarre Urchin Oak Galls, created when a Cynipid Wasp inserts her eggs on the underside of an oak leaf…the subsequent gall is the cellular reaction of the leaf.
I know what I’m doing for the next week.
It was also a good walnut year. In ’99 our orchard burned in the Jones Fire, and we thought we’d lost everyone, except the apple trees. Our beautiful black walnuts, under which we have buried all of our animal friends, were charred stumps. The following spring, there were green shoots. This fall, there were walnuts.
How do you get walnut meat out? asks Jeff. I scoff. Squirrels, of course. Haven’t you ever read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
You use a hammer. And patience. And fingernails.
Also, this happened:
The next morning I walked the property early, bones hurting. Jeff and I sequestered ourselves in a bedroom while the kids played outside. I don’t know anything but place-lessness he says.
All I feel, everyday, is that lack of place I say and now imagine knowing a place that knows you and where the emptiness is contrasted by fullness, where the sinews of your body resonate with a music perfect for you.
Its the same conversation, one layer deeper, more raw feelings. Someday the conversation of our lives will change. It can’t happen soon enough.
We went back to Nash Ranch, so the kids could do pony rides and get dehydrated and lost in the corn maze.
Sunday afternoon, I cleaned house in a fog of melancholy. I looked up from wiping the counter in the kitchen to a fluttering outside. A Flicker perched on the bird bath and I sharply inhaled, holding. The first time I saw a Flicker as a kid I experienced the same time stop. I squatted three feet away from it, watching it pick ants off the resident hill. I felt mystery flood my veins and I didn’t know what it was I was feeling. I marveled at the half moon on its breast, the sunset at the base of its feathers, the presence of its size. I had no cognitive thoughts, everything was still in my mind, but I could feel my heart. We looked at each other, connected by the moment, in sentience, and I knew relatedness. So many years later, I watched this Flicker out the window and all I could feel was that same wonder.
All I could say was Thank You.