Autumn brings with it many things to look forward to. An end to the dog days of summer. The return of migratory birds like the white-throated sparrow and junco, the specific species varying by location. Earlier sunsets and later sunrises. And of course the changing of the leaves.
Ah, yes, the changing of the leaves. Being a Blue Ridge boy, autumn has a special place in my heart for this reason alone. When the mountains change their deep emerald shawl for the colors of this cooler season, a person finds it impossible not to stop, stare, and swoon at the spectacle.
If you give in to the natural urge (or instinct) to head into the woods as the leaves change in a deciduous forest near you, without doubt you will have another little gift of autumn waiting for you: acorns.
Oak trees are one of the commonest, most indicative and even symbolic types of trees in temperate climes. And when autumn comes ‘round again, they get busy giving birth to acorns beyond measure. Tons and tons and tons of them. So many that even the industrious and devilish squirrels, try as they might, cannot eat them all.
This preponderance, this abundance, this cornucopia of acorns is great if you are a hungry, nutty little squirrel trying to fatten up for the chills of wintertime. But be warned: acorns can be hazardous to your health.
Think about it. With oak trees numbering in the mega-millions, and each one producing mega-millions of acorns in any one autumn brood, we woodland wanderers have potential hazards aplenty awaiting us. Once those acorns are fully aged and ready to “fly,” they come raining down like miniature bombs. And as autumn progresses, they seem to mature from timid toddlers to ornery adolescents and come raining down like teenagers racing their hotrods.
If an acorn falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? More importantly, if an acorn falls on your head in the forest and knocks you out, does it make a sound? Does it leave a bump? Should you press charges for assault and battery by vindictive oak?
Probably not…though our modern age is a litigious one, so you might have a good shot at getting a settlement at least. Heck, maybe sue the landowner or something for negligence in land management. Or maybe it was a squirrel with a really good aim. Whatever, you may definitely want to wear a hardhat. Or at least a sturdy hat…none of those floppy hats will protect your noggin, be sure.
What you should not do, by any means, is avoid the forests from fear of acorns falling on your head. No, let it rain, and the steadier the better.
Please know that I am not urging you into the woods as part of some sadistic environmentalist’s sinister plot to lessen human numbers through mass slaughter by acorns. No, I urge you to head into the woods and to seek those acorns out for a higher purpose: they are fascinating in their diversity and what they can teach us about the magic of trees. So go into the woods, and take the family members old and young, human and animal. Grab the kids and the kid in your heart and go acorn hunting.
Acorns may all seem the same in a superficial gaze (or when they plunk on your head). But they are almost like snowflakes, each one a little bit different depending on the type of oak it came (fell) from. Thus, you might find some acorns from the chestnut oak, which are sort of ovoid and pointy, an earthy chestnut brown, and about an inch to an inch and a half long. White oaks produce acorns that are a bit shorter, about three-quarters of an inch, and are green or greenish brown. Acorns from a shingle oak are more spherical and much darker, dark like the humus they may eventually break down and become part of. Hunting and identifying all the varieties of acorns, and the oaks they came from, can become a wonderful adventure that is fun and educational.
Even better, you can actually use your harvest of acorns. Believe it or not, acorns are edible! Breads, butters, and so much more can help make an autumn feast if you get a bit creative and go foraging. Or you can plant them, watching them sprout and grow into tall, well-armed trees…though this will take a while.
Ah, yes, the annual autumn rain of acorns is upon us. What a wonderful season and reason to get into the woods and go diving into piles of fallen leaves.
Two last helpful hints for acorn harvesting: just follow the squirrels…and do not forget your hardhat!
Meditation: Behold the Power of Trees