Yesterday I walked down the hill to feed my ancient, horse, brooding like a storm cloud, when an acorn slammed into the ground in front of me, missing my head by inches. These Valley Oak nuts are big, and they don’t just drop. They shoot out like a stone from a slingshot.
I know Oak trees probably hurl their nuts with such force to propel their offspring towards a fortuitous landing—but I like to think this tree wanted my attention. I just read “The Overstory” by Richard Powell, (amazing) and it clearly affected me.
But what could an old oak have to say to an aging, cranky woman, morose over a pandemic, corrupt leaders, and hot, smoke-filled California skies, day after miserable day?
I picked up the acorn, admired its shape, smoothness and glossy brown color. I pondered being targeted by a nut. Word associations pile one upon the other, giving me plenty of nutty ideas to contemplate.
Nutty, crazy, the world has gone nuts. Donald Trump is clearly nuts. Also, he is making ME nuts. And, I don’t want to be any nuttier than I am. So I’d best tend my own mental health, before casting acorns at others. The best way I know to improve my mental health is to spend as much time as possible in nature. And also, to find some small action to make me feel helpful.
The obvious! Well, I’m a woman, so by definition, I don’t have any. And while testosterone is famous for generating courage, bravery is not just for boys. I need the (figurative) nuts to stand up, and speak up, when courage is what’s called for. The more time I spend in nature, the more passionate I become, and the braver I get.
Hard shells protect soft interiors. We all have something tender inside, something we’re trying desperately to protect, even—perhaps especially, a certain world leader. Clearly there’s a damaged, terrified baby wailing inside that shell. Doesn’t make me like him any better, but it makes me less afraid. Also, it begs the question—what am I protecting inside my shell?
Anyone who’s cracked an old nut knows this much: un-cracked nuts aren’t actually safe. With time, the meat inside withers and rots. Also, it’s dark in there. If we never crack ourselves open, let ourselves be vulnerable, we too will surely wither and rot. It’s scary to be open about our thoughts and struggles. Life is risky, both inside a shell and out. But there’s more light and company on the outside, with all the other nuts.
don’t fall far from the tree. Maybe that’s apples; I can’t remember. Either way, this bit of wisdom is a terrible burden for every parent. Good Lord, it’s hard enough to be responsible for my own actions, let alone worry about what I've modeled for my kids, and therefore what nuttiness I've unleashed on the world. But that's part of the package for EVERYONE who leads ANYONE—teachers, mentors, parents, presidents.
Highest calorie/highest protein food on earth. Oak trees feed hundreds of woodland animal species. They give us shelter, building material, windbreaks, shade, and beauty. They filter the air and ground water. The more generous they are, the further their seeds are spread. Well, that’s an awesome reminder. Generosity benefits us all.
have unlimited potential. Each nut carries the blueprint of a whole forest. You never know what potential is locked inside your average nut. Including—you and me! Have I unwittingly limited what I’m capable of? What would I accomplish if I didn’t let fear or laziness get in my way?
Become trees, which show us how best to live. Old oaks protect young oaks under their canopy. But—not forever. As the young oaks grow, the old ones drop their branches, one by one, letting in more light for the understory. Eventually, the old oaks fall away entirely. As they decompose, they feed even more creatures, and fertilize the forest. Is there a better model for love than this? Can I nurture, but not block the light?
don’t waste energy. They don't bother trying to sink roots in concrete. They wait for the right opportunity, find a suitable environment, sink deep roots, sprout, and grow slowly. During times of drought they conserve their energy and wait for rain. When the rains come, they surge forward. This makes me consider where I focus my energy. Can I see the value in growing slow and strong? Can I be as patient as your average nut?
9) about something..
like being crazy about something, in a good way. I’m a nature nut, a book nut, and mostly, nuts about my family. Maybe animals are your passion, or music, politics, wine, whatever. I believe that’s why we’re here, to elevate this world and ourselves through what we love. (Unless our greatest passion is gaining power and wealth…then, we might need a little reboot).
are persistent. Two centuries back, a squirrel could travel from the east coast to the west on the branches of Oak trees, scarcely ever touching the ground. Then our ancestors cut most of them down to make way for—well, what we have now. Cities, suburbs, strip malls and parking lots.
But the Oaks around here are intent on reclaiming their territory. They inch into my vegetable garden and flower pots. They march into the orchard. They’d come inside the kitchen if I didn’t sweep often. And who can blame them? Humans don’t nourish the planet very well, compared to Oaks. Oaks are hard-wired to march towards a future that nourishes not just some, but all—even the very nuts that nearly wiped them off the planet.
How many acorn torpedoes will it take before I learn persistence? Real nuts never give up, no matter the setbacks. Digging deep, springing back, moving forward steadily, and offering kindness, even to those that make us the craziest, that’s the kind of nut I wish to be.
Right now there's enough going on to make even the sanest of us nuts. I don't have a therapist, but I do have therapy. When bad thoughts take over, I take myself to a nursery and look for the plants with bees, butterflies, or humming birds hovering around. I buy a few, and dig them into what I call my Protest Garden. What I'm protesting is feeling helpless and hopeless, by doing one small thing. My kids think it’s pretty funny. I know I’m not saving the world. Just one little corner.
How are you coping, out there? And what are you learning, in this nuttiest of times? Until next time— I’ll see you downstream, around the bend…
"Go take refuge in nature, and find a cause where your heart doesn’t feel inactive and in despair. This is the medicine."—Chan Phap Dung, Plum Village
Welcome to Streamriffs.com, a place for fellow creek- walkers and nature lovers. Lori Fisher Peelen lives in California with her family.