Monday, October 24, 2011

AN ACRE OF ACORNS

After the mosquitoes came the acorns! I mean, my first glimpses of home in New Iberia, Louisiana were of the maringouins fluttering against the pane of my study, and when I glanced at the floor of the dusty patio, I saw a carpet of acorns – whole, half-eaten, broken shells – and more raining down from the Live Oak beside the house. The acorns comprised a bumper crop, the products of a “mast season” in the acorn realm. Sweeping, chloroxing the patio floor, shaking my fist at the squirrels and the jays causes no cessation of the acorn rain. Both jays and squirrels are aggressive and jeer at me from their perches in the live oak, throwing down the shells of the nuts hourly.

Acorns of White Oaks at Sewanee are elephantine compared to the nuts that fall from my Louisiana backyard oak, but the result is the same – the feel and sound of acorns crunching underfoot and littering daily. In my readings about the acorn, I find that most acorns are garnered by birds (especially jays and woodpeckers) before they fall to the ground, and they also provide tasty fare for mice, wood rats, and pigs (?), although I haven’t seen the latter rooting in the yard yet! Armadilloes, yes; pigs, no.

The tannins in acorns agree with the digestion of some animals, but we aren’t among them, unless the nuts are soaked in water for awhile so that the tannins leach out. California Native Americans once fought over trees that bore acorns low in tannins and sweet in taste.

I haven’t spied an acorn woodpecker yet, but these birds subsist on acorns where several species of Live Oaks grow close to each other and produce abundant crops of the nut. Acorns also attract wasps, and I’ve spied a few of their nests near the patio since returning home to Louisiana. Birds sometimes eat the wasp larvae for dessert following a meal of acorns.

Recipes using acorns abound – acorn flour honey cake, acorn pasta, roasted acorns, acorn soup, to name a few. As for me, I’ll sweep the “mast crop” into the backyard for the jays and squirrels and leave the remainder of the harvest for old hippies to eat!

An excerpt from one of my old poems that is unpublished entitled “South Wind:”

“…that same South wind
moves an irksome squirrel,

her pet, a comrade who scatters nuts
before the torn screen door,

sensing she has reached
the gate of a worthy despair,

and leaves his tokens of communication
within her reach,

offering the best a creature can give
to one who hasn’t the peace

of the squirrel, swinging,
limb-hung, in the hot south wind,

eating the nut of a tree’s kindness…”
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