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.

Red Oak acorns. Non-native, in downtown Redding.

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.




My two friends, of 36 years.

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.









Fern crapped out 1/2 way through, but Leo and I were determined. By the time we found the middle, I think we were hallucinating.

See that back corner? Square that. Freaking HUGE. Designed for drunk teenagers and flashlights at night.

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.


7 thoughts on “Flickering

  1. How about, yes, thank you? Flickers are the protectors of women, surely a sign that you’re on your way, there. Wherever there is, the place that knows you, already knows you waiting somewhere in the not-too-distant-future.

    Saw a hawk this morning, thought of you.

  2. Oh Mary, this post moves me literally to tears. It still amazes me that you have the same deep, visceral link to the natural world, and that you can write about it in such a powerful and sensitive way at the same time.

    As you said last time: “because the beauty of this world, of wildness, of nature and inter-relationship with non-human beings breaks my heart right open, exposing a molten core of almost unendurable joy.”

    Since we moved every three years from a city to another when I was a kid in France, I don’t belong to a particular place (except an island where we used to return to almost every summer).

    But here in Montrรฉal, where I arrived at 28, I could introduce you to several trees that are my true friends and mentors: two huge red oaks who are the guardians of the wild park where I immerse myself in nature, one particular white oak who is like my grandfather, a white pine that makes me feel that all is well… and not far from my apartment, a row of immense cottonwoods welcoming you into another park – every time I walk among them, which is often, they knock me down. I feel their call to my soul so strongly that it often hurts.

    Cottonwoods are, in fact, the very trees that one day made me cross the threshold between human conscience and universal conscience.

    Thank you for your words, Mary. They knock me down as well.

    1. And your encounters with the Flicker (then and now) submerged me with recognition… The Barn Owl that was perched in a branch just outside my window in mid-afternoon; the Hawk landing on a stele right behind me; the couple of Goldfinches showing their one young how to perch on our cosmos; the Nighthawk taking a morning nap on my balcony.

      Every time, the same instant, deep relatedness, the absence of thoughts. I had commuted to our common living experience, a vibration that is both light and deep, subtle and constant.

  3. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaan, I exhaled with this post. That clip of Jeff and the kids, him being a dad and then you being a mama coming in to tell them about the box of toys. So familiar – it reminded me of me and Steve as our parent-selves and i got the biggest pang that I Miss You Guys. That clip was glorious in all of it’s naturalness and so beautifully candid. I felt the heat and dry mouth of dehydration knowing that it was long afternoon in the sun for you in the corn maze on Nash Ranch. What a good exhausting body felt time.

    I like those afternoons, when we do stuff outside by the beach or in the bush, and time is something in the background rather than foremost….we travel home tired and stinkin but happy and accomplished. I’ve been thinking about Australia, and about the time we moved there when I was 6. I recall how bewildered I was that it was so dusty, the grass was rough and the bark pealed off the tall straight trees. I never really got used to the Queensland Bush. It has it’s own dry bushwhacked charm but lacked the dampness and lushness of my NewZealand flora. We walked a track yesterday to a rope swing someone has erected behind the Scout Hall which is on a reserve just by where we live, the kids got to swing, and I bravely put one foot in the loop and hung there “noone push me!!!!”…..I can see that the streams and rivers and soft grasses and trees where we live are going to be an integral part of how my children see themselves when they are adults. All of this landscape will be part of their own personal history, not just their mind memories, but their body and heart memories too.
    I understand how not being where your heart needs to be….makes you feel displaced.

  4. Hello there ๐Ÿ™‚ I wanted to leave a response and thank you so much for your kind words of wisdom on my blog post about miscarrying. Seriously… it meant a lot to hear someone say they had shared a somewhat similar experience. Or, at least stand on the side of nature with me, it is so contrary to what many of those I know expect and have experienced. I sometimes prefer not even telling them, so I don’t have to listen to their concerns for me. Thank you so much. It is funny too, because I have popped in occasionally at your blog (also thanks to Ms. Milla), but I had never commented before. I think the Dandelion Wine post was one of the first I read and I was very intrigued. Also, how adorable is Fern? My goodness ๐Ÿ™‚

    I love this post, particularly your wonderful nut harvesting! Wow! We have only one sad pecan tree on our new little homestead. It is fruiting this year, but we can’t keep the squirrels from eating them all up–even the green ones! We just planted a few more pecans, chestnuts, hickory, and some “swamp chestnuts”–really they are a native acorn that is supposedly a very tasty variety. Which prompts me to ask– how do you utilize your acorns? I know the Native Americans did it– and made bread etc. I’d love to hear more– if you haven’t posted about this already.

    Much love, Andrea ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. maybe a person can be many-placed? because for sure, shasta is one of your places, it is written all over your glowing face at the farm, and the shine of your daughter’s smile as she romps those lands. but, i know, i know, i over-simplify…for the heart longs for one true place where dwelling and living and gathering and harvesting all mark the seasons of the year. visits are just not enough. and if i remember correctly, you said your family is selling the homestead, right? will you guys still be able to visit shasta county? in any case, this post is heart wrenchingly beautiful, such a reminder of what home and family SHOULD feel like. maybe because they are so native and intricately tied to our lands, acorns feel the most homey to me ๐Ÿ™‚

    sending you love and homing vibes as always.

  6. hi.
    i’m so glad we live on the same hemisphere so i can watch you see all of the things i’ve been seeing, and then learn about them. i didn’t know that name of those pokey tripped out galls, but i was eyeing them even today.

    and i’m gathering a lot of acorns because i’m finally working with my local primitive lady and doing an acorn class, so yay for acorns!

    i’m inspired by those walnut trees, and fall time in redding.

    and flickering, yes: one of my favorite people in the whole wide effing world always had a flicker feather in his cap. he never said it straight out but i knew he had a very personal and spiritual relationship with the flicker.
    it was said he was the only maidu under 80 to be fluent in that earthy tongue, he even started a school in nevada city teaching it.

    i was googling his school (major karmic attraction/ school girl crush), hoping to see him again soon, and his obituary came up. he wasn’t even 40, so handsome and magical. it nearly killed me. what he taught me about people, and culture preservation, and wild food….well, he was the flicker, speaking to me. and i see him every time i see the white rump of the flicker flying off from tree to tree.

    http://www.livingwild.org/spring-blog-posts/in-the-land-of-the-mountain-maidu/ <— here's some of his work on language and trying to reclaim the humbug valley for indigenous peoples.
    http://www.firstpeoplesnewdirections.org/blog/?tag=environment <—– here's the painting i saw of his when we first met of a flicker.

    and here's the obituary i found on accident: http://www.theunion.com/news/obituaries/7872074-113/maidu-farrell-cunningham-language

    thanks for letting me write about this here.
    he was really important to me.
    i love flickers, too.


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