Beginning in late autumn, walnuts blanket our lawns and flower beds with rotting black mushy balls the size of lemons. In June the nuts sprout under shrubs and in the grass like sneaky aliens. That is, IF the nuts are left undisturbed.
At our place, a mature black walnut tree spreads high and wide just off our deck along a fence line; another marks the front edge of our property and the entrance to our driveway. In the hot summer the trees give welcome shade. They also infect our soil with juglone, a chemical poisonous to most flowers, vegetables, and shrubs, even pine trees.
Sitting on our deck in June, a friend praised the back yard’s black walnut. “That is a gorgeous tree!” Graceful, extravagant, enormous, the tree survived a property line clean-out 30 years ago. When we couldn’t grow tomatoes within 50 feet of it, we moved the tomatoes. When a pine shrub died, we replaced it with a juniper. Zinnias instead of petunias. Hydrangeas instead of azaleas. We have definitely accommodated the tree.
In early November when we walk across the lawn and our feet roll and twist on freshly fallen nuts, we begin their removal. After filling a wheelbarrow with nuts, we cart them 200 yards to the back tree line where squirrels dine. We have been doing this for years, even though as we age and lose cells, the trees grow and gain cells, thus producing ever more nuts.
Two days ago, we finally finished tossing nuts into trash barrels, carting off nuts to squirrel piles, rolling up nuts, raking nuts, digging out nuts, driving over nuts.
We could hire someone to pick up the nuts or even to cut down the trees. So why are we still doing our own nut removal? Because we can is the simplest answer, but there is more to the story.
It’s about respect. The trees are prolific, provident.
It’s about cooperation, with each other and the trees. After all, walnuts fall only for two weeks while we have enough energy and will to rid ourselves of them, over time, an hour here, an hour there.
It’s about responsibility and reciprocity. The trees shade us, cool our yard, clean our air. In the deep woods, the walnuts could remain in place on the ground, but we have an artfully landscaped yard which requires consideration.
It’s about participation and attention. The trees participate in growing and giving naturally, without debate or analysis. They nourish and replenish. Tending to them and their fruit engages us.
This extended metaphor about black walnuts is intended to remind us how best to honor life, celebrate faith, practice peace, and acknowledge each other and our natural world with respect and kindness.
Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukkah, Blessings and Peace—Within these phrases are foundations of respect, cooperation, responsibility, reciprocity, and participation; repetitive allusions to deliverance and salvation; reminders of celebratory events, generosity, and renewal. Even if used carelessly, the phrases maintain their foundational intention.
There is a natural order to trees, life, and meaning, which begs our attention and care, even when we are distracted by disruptions and challenges. We respond, perhaps not joyfully, but tenderly, deliberately, faithfully, gratefully, patiently, because we can, because we must. We are more than ourselves. We all are.