Autumn in the shape of an acorn
Walking into the trees, a bucket of acorns in one hand, a shovel in the other, I stop to unzip my jacket. Overhead the cool wind whistles through the tops of the bare trees. But below, where the trees thrust from the earth, the autumn air breathed still and warm.
My father had given us a trash bag full of bur oak acorns -- part of a cache a friend gave to him for feeding the squirrels.
It must have been a good year for the trees, oaks and walnuts alike. The tall walnuts surrounding our house had been pelting us with walnuts since September. Our squirrels are fat. They've plenty to eat. So we decided to plant the acorns in the woods that surround our house.
In some parts of Leavenworth County, there are forested areas that have an abundance of oaks. The trees are easy to spot this time of year, as they stingily hang onto their leaves, while trees of other species stand bare. I think, and many might agree, that there's no tree more majestic than a vast and spreading bur oak.
My husband and I had noticed that the woods near our house had many walnut trees, but no oaks. So we decided to plant some of the acorns.
We looked on the Internet for instructions and learned that, after the caps are removed, if the acorns are placed in water, the ones that can germinate will sink.
Our 2-year-old granddaughter eagerly helped with the sorting process, tossing the acorns -- and anything else she could reach -- into a barrel of water.
Soon, enough acorns had sunk to the bottom for us to fill a bucket and begin our work.
Ella helped with the acorns we planted in the yard. I'd put a foot on one side of the shovel and she'd put her foot on the other side. Her mother placed the acorn, as we'd read to do, on its side. Then Ella scooted dirt on top and pressed it down with her feet.
We marked each acorn with a survey flag, so we can check next summer to see if any sprouted.
After a dozen or so plantings, understandably, Ella's interest turned elsewhere. We set the acorn project aside and turned to bowling hedgeballs down the driveway.
Later in the day, after the kids had gone home, my husband and I resumed the project. I knew it was likely that if we didn't do it that day -- when we had the time and the inclination to do it -- we probably never would.
We started at the edge of the trees, then worked our way into the woods, trying not to trip over grapevines, staying away from the wilted reddish but still menacing poison ivy leaves, and picking the occasional tick off our jeans.
We live near the turnpike in the southern part of the county. And it's an area, where possible future intensive development may occur. So all too well, we realized that the solitude of the woods, and the woods themselves, someday could be lost to the thing called progress.
We gauged our plantings with a purpose -- close enough to the creek to be in a low-lying area where development might never occur -- and far enough from the banks to be safe from erosion.
The whole project was a stretch of optimism. We realized that if the trees live -- if they survive the squirrels' appetite, the weather, the deer and the encroaching development -- it would be nearly 30 years before even one acorn would be produced.
So even as we brushed aside autumn's thick coat of leaves to reach bare ground in which to sink our shovel in the soft dirt, we realized our futility, and perhaps our folly.
The future will tell whether the acorns will grow into trees.
But we turned out the lights that night, knowing that life gives us a limited number of perfect autumn days, and that, in our own small way, this was one of those days we had lived to the fullest.