7:06 a.m. 43 degrees, wind S 1 mph. Sky: no separation between heaven and
Earth; a world bound in mist Permanent streams: flowing. Wetlands: low
clouds, high fog. Pond: yesterday's flotilla of leaves and pine needles
sank, took their places among the muck, a blanket for tadpoles, frogs, and
Autumn colors in a single big-toothed aspen leaf; lines of red and orange
across a yolk yellow background. Alders green grading slowly to brown, much
like apple leaves.
In the alder: a lone male black-throated green warbler. Chickadees probing
lichen along the branches of white spruce.
Red oak acorns attack my standing-seam roof, tumbling into the backyard,
collecting below the clothesline. Day and night oaks drop nutritious
packages of protein and fat, a sleep-depriving downpour like prairie hail.
Every morning the ground cobbles with acorns. Hanging laundry requires
flipflops. Red oak acorns take two years to mature. Every three to five
years, depending on various variables—weather, geography, genetics, tree
health, among them—the Northeast produces a bumper crop.
Whenever acorns flood, the forest animals prosper, a phenomenon known
as a *trophic
cascade*. The summer after acorn over-abundance, white-footed mice and
chipmunk population may swell from two per acre to more than fifty. Mice
breed straight through the winter; chipmunks breed earlier in the spring.
Gray squirrels are everywhere and hard to avoid when driving. Two years
after the acorns, and a year behind the mouse and chipmunk peak, timber
rattlesnake births are often much higher; hawks and owls often fledge more
chicks; foxes more kits.
In addition to fat and protein, red oak acorns are loaded with tannin; a
bitter compound used to cure leather that happens to bind protein and
prevent assimilation across the gut wall of seed predators. Rain and
snowmelt leach tannin, making the acorns progressively tastier the longer
they remain on the ground. By early spring, there may be little else left
I chewed one yesterday; I don't recommend it. Red oak acorns are bland and
acidic like an oily aspirin. Deer don't share my lack of appreciation.
Their saliva denatures tannin, rendering the acorns immediately palatable.
Black bears love them, too, as well as fisher, raccoons, gray fox, blue
jays, grackles, and wild turkeys, which scuffle through leaf litter along
both sides of the driveway every morning searching for acorns.
There are three hundred oak species in North America; sixty north of
Mexico; one in my backyard.