By Alta Campbell
Nobody told me, when I decided to move to the woods, about the acorns. I knew, and worried, about various negative aspects of living in the woods–the possibility of large trees falling on my house, of myriad types of insects attacking me and the cedar exterior, and of snakes sneaking into the basement through some miniscule crack in the crawl space cover. But the acorns? No, I knew nothing of them. Nobody told me that in late summer/early fall they would begin to rocket down from the trees.
When the first one fell, slamming into the roof like a bullet and then bouncing onto the deck with a double shot, my cat Violet and I jumped and looked at each other, startled. We ran downstairs toward the apparent source of the noise, thinking that something had fallen, from a high shelf perhaps, or that something had hit the house. Everything appeared to be in order, so I assumed that a branch had hit the roof.
It took a few more acorns falling before I realized what was happening. I figured it out by looking outside when I heard the crack and seeing them bouncing off the deck. Acorns! Falling from high up in the tall oak trees, gaining momentum in their flight, and crashing onto the roof. Then, depending on their path, they thudded to the ground or smacked onto the deck or front porch. It was the sort of noise that made you jump, look up, and mutter expletives.
Sometimes the acorns hit the skylights, with enough force that the loud crack made me fear that they had broken the glass. I had to go investigate, to make sure that the glass was not broken. Fortunately it wasn’t.
These were not small acorns. They were big, sometimes measuring 1 ½ inches long and ¾ of an inch wide, and they were hard, rock-solid hard. They were the sort of acorns that would hurt if they hit you, that might even make you a little faint if they hit your head or slightly fracture a bone if they hit your arm or shoulder at exactly the right angle. At least that is what I thought.
Wondering about what sort of tree dropped these large acorns, I did some research. As near as I could determine, they came from swamp chestnut oak trees, members of the white oak family. I don’t know trees very well, so I was pleased that the acorns had sparked my investigation of the type of trees I had on my property. I had been planning to learn their names.
The drama of the acorns grew from an occasional crack, causing a startle and a cringe, to the rat-a-tat of a daily bombardment as summer moved into fall. I had recently bought some chaise lounges for the deck, and it was so delightful to sit out there and read under the trees, overlooking the pond. There was usually a breeze. In fact, it was so delightful that I sometimes just sat there, looking up into the trees, watching the play of light on the pond, and listening to the birds, my book untouched on my lap. I was so glad when the weather began to cool, making it even more pleasant on the deck.
Until the acorns. It is difficult to concentrate on a book or on enjoying nature when acorn bullets are crashing down all around you. Each time one fell, I flinched and shrank back into the chair. Not a relaxing place to read, especially since one fell generally every few minutes. I had to give up and go inside.
During those days in early fall, I could blow all acorns off the deck with my leaf blower and within a day or two the deck would again be covered with acorns, hundreds of acorns. It became treacherous even to walk out there. And the ground around the house, littered with thousands of acorns, was not much more navigable. I developed a sort of careful, rolling walk to make my way across them.
The squirrels were happy though. They liked to sit on the railings of the porch and the deck and eat acorns, leaving shells scattered all along the railings and floor. Violet watched them from the windows, fascinated. She is a serious animal watcher. Her favorite hangout is on the ledge of the screened porch. The bottom half of the porch walls are wood, with a ledge between the wood and the screens above, just wide enough for Violet. The porch faces woods and the pond. Violet spends long hours on the ledge, watching birds on the pond, squirrels, chipmunks, deer, anything that wanders by.
I always know that, if I happen to catch Violet watching something intently, it is likely to be interesting. I go out on the porch to look. One day she was watching a box turtle slowly make its way along the ground. Its mottled brown color wasn’t much different from that of the dirt and the dead leaves it moved through. I had to look carefully to see it. But Violet saw it. With focused gaze she watched its every move.
Another day she saw a little lizard outside on the steps. It slithered back and forth and she never took her eyes off it. One day that lizard or a similar one found its way onto the porch. Violet went after it. I was out on the deck blowing off acorns and had walked onto the screened porch to get a better angle. I saw that Violet had cornered something behind a basket on the floor. It was hiding. When I moved the basket away, the lizard ran out.
Wanting to get it off the porch and away from Violet’s fascination, I opened the door and shooed it out onto the deck. It went, and so did Violet, in hot pursuit. Violet is an indoor cat, not allowed outside. I followed her out, screaming her name, and fortunately was able to get her back inside. She panics when I scream. The lizard got away, luckily for him.
Finally, Violet and I got more accustomed to the acorns falling. When one struck, we glanced at each other and nodded to ourselves. Acorn. Nothing to worry about, as long as we were inside. We still jumped sometimes when an especially loud one hit the roof, muttered obscenities to ourselves (or at least I did. I can’t be sure about Violet, though from the look on her face, I have my suspicions), and went back to whatever we were doing.
So I learned that falling acorns were just another aspect of life in the woods. Not the best one, but apparently one I had to put up with. I couldn’t stop them, nor would I want to. They were part of the natural order of things that I was enjoying observing.
And then, after two or three weeks of acorn bombardment, they slowed down to an occasional hit and then to nothing. I suppose that was inevitable, that the oak trees would eventually empty themselves of acorns. Since fall was well underway by then, the deck was often covered with leaves, so the acorns fell with more of a pronounced thud, rather than a loud crack. I hardly noticed them.
The acorns became another seasonal phase of life in the woods. They were followed by the glorious phase of the trees changing color, turning the woods into an artist’s palette of reds, yellows, and golds. Winter would follow then, with its artwork of dark, lacy silhouetted branches against an evening sky, and then the snow would whisper down, turning the woods white and quiet. With all of these wonderful things to watch, the disruptive noise of the acorns could not begin to diminish the joy and the peace that I had found in my woodland home.