A Purloined Letter from the Green Raven
Last spring I got very interested in foraging. My family took a hike through a local forest with a knowledgeable acquaintance who pointed out edible foods along our route. Our interest and confidence were both stoked by books such as The Forager's Harvest as well as the classic Stalking The Wild Asparagus.
What could be easier or more local than food that naturally grew in a place, with no labor from us?
During the early spring, my family collected quarts of dandelions and canned pints of delicious jelly. We picked purslane and sorrel which graced our stir-fries. And we eagerly awaited fall when we could collect acorns--and try everything from sugar-coated acorns to acorn-flour bread.
Last year, my young son and I collected zillions of acorns for art projects and pretending. We filled my backpack one afternoon as we waited for the bus, we picked them up on every walk, we heard their falls on our roof. Before I threw in a load of laundry, I had to pick acorns out of pockets.
But when was that, exactly? This year I waited, and waited. Still no acorns. Did we miss the season somehow?
* * *
It turns out that there are no acorns this year in this part of the country. NONE, from any of the various kinds of oak trees. While some parts of the world had their usual crop, the mid-Atlantic states were completely barren. No acorns, and no hickory nuts either.
It is unclear why this year has not produced the usual crop.
This is the Great Depression for squirrels. Deer and bears are not happy about it, either. All are desperate and hungry. Squirrels around here attacked Halloween pumpkins left out overnight. Garbage cans are knocked over as industrious rodents search for another meal. Many may die this winter for lack of nourishment. They are perhaps more likely to enter our gardens and towns in search of food.
My first thought was that the declining numbers of bees might account for the fact that pollination did not occur last year--but this is not an adequate reason. Oaks are pollinated predominantly by wind.
Is the absence of acorns because of growing cycles? the longstanding drought? the heavy spring rains? Perhaps. Insects like gypsy moths? Disease? Maybe. Perhaps it is intensified by heavy hardwood logging. As field botanist Rob Simmons says, "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."
My favorite explanation is that the Acorns were too busy this fall trying to register fraudulent voters...