In the spring, I learned that acorns of the white oak were less bitter–and were more widely used for food–than those of the red oak. At that time, I was walking through thousands of acorns in our neighborhood, and thinking how great it would be to use them for food. I also walked through thousands of dried-up oak leaves, but never saw any white oaks. You can tell the difference because the leaves of the red oak are pointy and the leaves of the white oak have rounded lobes.
This fall, there were barely any acorns. Oaks do that. They choose certain years (mast years) to collaboratively put on a full production of acorns, and others years, not so much. This may be a rough winter for the squirrels, who grew their families large on last year’s bounty. But imagine my surprise when I saw these leaves on the pavement during my morning walk. You might have to look closely.
Amidst the pointy ones are some small round-lobed leaves. The tree is about two blocks from my house, a smaller oak right next to a big red oak, standing in someone’s front yard. I am going to guess that it might be a white oak. I look forward to the next mast year for acorns, to see if I can distinguish them from each other, and maybe try making acorn flour.
Meanwhile, this was a beautiful autumn for oak trees. Usually, it seems, the oak leaves hang on the tree and go from green to brown without much fanfare. But two weeks ago, they were a translucent gold to rival the maples. Today, we had our first snow storm, but the snow is spotted with oak leaves everywhere, pulled from their branches by the wind to land on top of the snow.
When the sun rises on the day after a snow storm, there is so much beauty everywhere. The light, the lines of branches highlighted in white and gold, the patterns… and the songs of birds, which don’t show up in a photo but fill the air with more beauty as I walk along the city streets. I don’t usually like to post more than one photo but I can’t resist today. After my walk, I arrived home to find a flock of robins in the maple tree next door. Those berries in the photo are Asian Bittersweet–the invasive vines Margy is working to get rid of–but they do serve as a food source for birds in winter. The robins were singing too. How can anyone fail to appreciate such beauty as this morning’s sunrise brought to our world?
The mild weather has revealed old oak leaves and acorns all over the ground on the trail by the brook, as well as the back of our yard. The trees in our yard are young, but there are many old ones in the neighborhood. In the fall there were literally thousands of acorns underfoot all along the streets and the trail. It got me thinking about acorns as a food source–roasted and ground into flour.
Unfortunately, I finally learned that all of these neighborhood acorns are from the northern red oak, whose Wabanaki name referred to its bitter acorn. Acorns from the white oak and the burr oak were much preferred for eating because they are sweeter. Still, I am thrilled to know their names. All this from the book Notes on a Lost Flute, by Kerry Hardy, including a helpful diagram of the shape of each type of leaf and acorn. After seeing the pictures, I paid attention to all the oak leaves along my walk–all red oak. Simply put, the red oak leaves have pointed edges, while the white oaks have rounded lobes. Sometimes it helps to simplify–there are actually about 600 oak species overall, and 8 in Maine.
Researching further, I learned in A Short History of Trees in Portland, that there are stands of white oak in Baxter Woods and Deering Oaks park. Now I am delighted to imagine walking there in the spring to see if I can find those trees. In the meantime, another storm is on the way, and it will soon all be covered again in a foot of snow.
On my morning walks, I am always drawn to water. Often happily surprised by other creatures who are also drawn to water. Like these three ducks at Capisic Brook. Is this some ancient DNA memory, the walk to the water? Women walking to water through untold centuries. Before the water came to us in pipes, which was not so long ago. Before the water in brooks became no longer drinkable–though the animals still drink there. And yet, even with all that has been lost, still so beautiful to my soul.
Yesterday, with the ice and snow thawing, I ventured all the way down the path by the brook and discovered that the way was blocked by this new river of rock. There used to be a small wooden bridge over a small drainage ditch that led down to the brook, but now there was this huge thing. And an orange mesh barrier blocking the way on both sides.
Today I went back and discovered that someone (a dirt bike?) had pushed the mesh barrier down, so I stepped over the mesh too. I walked across the rocks consciously imagining that the path will be restored with a new little bridge. Don’t our feet have some sort of magic to trace the energy of our intentions, and create or preserve the trail we want to walk on? As poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Traveler, there is no path. The path is made by walking.”
So perhaps all of us who walk or ride this small path are preserving it by our collective energy, by our love and attention, and by moving through barriers. Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Thank you kindred travelers.
I got off to a slow start today, and waited until afternoon to take a walk, after the sun came out. The bright light and shadows were playing over the cherry trees we planted last spring. (Further back are the stakes around the raspberries.) I feel such protective tenderness toward these trees. They are so little still. There is no way to tell how they are surviving the ups and downs of winter. We’ve had long bitter freezes, thaws, ice, snow storms… but so far, no deer nibbling. Sleep well little ones! Another storm is on the way for tomorrow.
Almost every morning, I take a walk around my neighborhood. Even on cold days, or icy days, I never regret going outside. I never know what I might see. One day, a whole flock of robins had gathered in these ice-coated branches. I heard them before I saw them.
Today it was very icy. I walked a few blocks down the street, and then ventured over a slick snow mound to get to the path by the brook. Someone had cut a few steps into the huge pile, but once I reached the top, I just sat and slid the rest of the way down the other side. After I stood up again I realized that I was committed now–there would be no way to get back up from that side.
So I walked over to where the trail began, and looked at the shininess of the frozen rain-covered snow. In order to keep from slipping, even with yak-trax on my boots, I ended up stomping through the crust at the edges of the path. Still, this has been my favorite part of my morning walk, to be next to the flowing water, surrounded by trees, breathing in the freshened air.
Even in the city there are these pockets of wild nature. Even with construction going on just beyond the view of my lens. Even when I think I want to stay inside, there so many wordless reasons to put on heavy coat, hat, scarf, and boots and greet my earthly neighbors.