15 November 2011

The Lucky One

The full walnut trees.
Of all of the mature trees on our little farm, 98% are black walnut. Though they are clearly past their prime, they continue to bombard us with plenty of hardened nuts come fall.
This branch drug along the ground when the nuts reached full size.
At first, the walnuts are soft green spheres that swell on the tips of the branches.  They continue to grow to the point that the trees sag under their collective weight.
The high winds that occasionally blast their way through the area are one of the biggest threats to the individual fruit.  If it falls to the ground while the protective skin is still green, the seed within rots away to dirt and will never have the chance to produce a tender new tree.

Come autumn, helmets are almost required to walk from the house to the cars.  Walnuts wiggle free and plummet to the earth, making a threatening Klunk! when they smack the ground.  So far, we've all dodged any head injuries though our poor cars have received a few blows.
When the nut is ripe, the green skin degenerates to a flimsy black husk that permanently stains any fabric it comes in contact with, turning it an unpleasant brown.  I learned my lesson the hard way not to hang clothes on the line during walnut season.  Some unfortunate outfits had to be retired or reassigned to work clothes.
The hull shrivels too and becomes incredibly hard.  It takes a strong strike of the hammer to crack it open.  I don't care much for the nut--they're too bitter tasting to me--but Jack and Evelyn can't get enough of them.

Where there are nuts, there are sure to be squirrels.  I'm not entirely sure how they migrated so far.  We're surrounded by acres of treeless fields with a good distance between houses.  Either those fat fox squirrels run their way along the stretches of electric lines or scamper through the ditch.  There never seems to be a shortage of the clever rodents.
Though there's squirrel manna from heaven here, there are also extreme risks.  Our cats are merciless when on the prowl and have snagged more than a few squirrels, presenting them proudly at our doorstep.  The neighbors don't mind--several times the squirrels have cut off power to their house by chewing the power lines.  Still, I'm a bit remorseful when I step out the back door to find a cat laying next to their prize.

There's one girl I've dubbed "The Lucky One."  She's certainly a female with two rows of teats large enough to rival a Holstein dairy cow.  Her truly distinctive mark though is her shortened, scraggly tail.  I have no idea how she lost it but imagine it was during a close encounter with a feline.
She obviously learned from her mistake.  Overly cautious and aware of her surroundings, I've watched tensely as my cats stalked her.  Before they were close enough to leap, she was up a tree, chewing them out with angry chatter and fierce whipping of her stubby tail.

With winter soon approaching, I've observed her quickly and efficiently burying pounds of walnuts in the ground.  She'll forget to dig up lots of them and in spring, the back of our yard will be filled with more walnut saplings than grass.

I think I'm almost as attached to her as I am some of my own domesticated animals.  She's cute, smart and hard working and is one animal I enjoy watching that I don't have to pay to feed.  I don't know how old she is and nature can be hard on the bottom of the food chain.  Even though the odds are against her, I'll keep watching and rooting for the lucky one as long as we are here.

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