’Tis the season of the acorn.
That determined little seed that grows into the might oak has a hard outer shell that houses one and occasionally two seeds which need to stay dry to be able to germinate. Oaks drop these curious nuts every two or three years, and most oaks do not produce until they are 20 to 30 years old.
Large oaks produce thousands of acorns which feed deer and bears in addition to the squirrels, mice, chipmunks, rabbits, opossums, blue jays, turkeys, ducks and raccoons. They are not a tasty nut. They contain bitter tannins which can be eaten by humans only after a long and determined process that requires the patience of a starving person.
I am a cook and I have tried many things. To gather, crush and sort out shells, and then to wash acorns in a trickle bath for hours to leach out the bitter tannins to obtain flour for baking. however, is something I will leave to those more resolute than I in seeking to capturing something from a bygone era.
There are over 450 different kinds of oaks, from the cork oak, which the corks from bottles of wine come from, to the waterproof wood of the white oak, whose barrels are used for making wine (serious vintners are endeared to those mighty oaks).
When I was a kid, we gathered acorns for the neighbors’ chickens in order to supplement their winter feed. The neighbors, the Baldwins, stored them in mason jars on a shelf in the barn in order to keep the other barn creatures from feeding on them.
There seemed to be lots of contests on the Baldwin farm. It was much like Tom Sawyer getting the chores done by getting others to compete with each other. Their mother was clever at the games she composed. She created a way to make farm duties fun.
My grandmother told a story about how you can’t see the face of the acorn. Acorns were from the spirit world and were about to meet a human for the first time. It was suggested that they look their best, so each one had to weave a hat to wear. They were so busy playing that they didn’t finish in time, so when the human came they hid their faces in their hats. To this very day, if you want to see an acorn face you have to take off its hat.
The acorn has played a great part in preserving ancient records. There is a wasp that lays its eggs in the blossom of a budding seed which grows a gall, a strange growth similar in size to the acorn. This growth which houses the gall worm serves as it substance and home.
These galls were gathered and made into an ink, used for such documents as the Magna Carta and the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci. Gall ink is still made today, and used by those few pen enthusiast and artists who would like their work to stand out from the crowd’s.
Acorns are a symbol of abundance and security. It is said that carrying an acorn will bring you a long and heathy life and good luck. Acorns placed on a window sill will protect your home from lightning. Planting one under the light of the moon will bring luck and prosperity to you and your home.
I don’t know about luck, but the acorn has still has great influence in my yard even today. I can no longer park my truck under that great spreading oak whose seeds, like falling stones, leave dimples in the hood.
This appears to be a banner year for these seeds. I hope that the squirrels will find this lawn banquet to their liking. If they do, my bird feeders may be spared not only from their voracious appetites, but also their determination to chew bigger holes in the plastic to obtain lunch in the fast lane.
The word from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”