Winter’s Wood

Winter’s Wood

This year the old Silver Maple in the backyard had to go away after an extended stay that probably began in the beginning of last century, a time when trees were few and tortured. Its ancestors had been systematically consumed by the advance of land-hungry settlers all thinking the forest were endless, and that their God had ordained them to feast upon the land. It was out of self-interest they acted and not that of the earth’s. It is just the way it was.

Now the tree is down, scattered on the lawn, as if so much litter. In its own way, it had become abusive in that our house was being threatened. The winds of November are stronger now, and the tree’s falling would not play well on human ambitions,  our coveted property. The old Maple is now wood in a crude form waiting to be gathered and split.

Each species has its own characteristics that needs to be understood, not just in handling but in storage and burning. It lays there in great round reels, almost intimidating in its mass. Like diamonds rough and uncut each section has to be analyzed, for trying to split it by running a wedge down the middle is a fool’s errand meant only to rattle an aging brain that does not need to be rattled. In this maple’s case, blows of the splitting maul must peel sections off the edges avoiding  knots and fissures for they are trouble and very much like to argue.

Maple, unlike white oak, has little appeal to the delicate nose unlike the dense oak which cast a distant smell of fine whiskey or aged wine. A barrel made of maple would lay a cold and unpleasant nose on those sacred nectars. So this maple, this silver maple is destined to become warmth in a winter’s fire.  One would suppose that not being of oaken charm and embedded heat, it could be deemed a disappointment but piled deep in carefully chosen rows of winter’s wood it is a monument to all the years spent guarding the childhood yard and picnic dreams.

Music by Ann Herzog Wright, Tony Albrecht, Ann Huntoon, David Wright


Dimming of the Day

This is a small piece I put together after canoeing on the Tomorrow river. We had seen versions of this all summer but as the fall took over there were changes, some subtle others more pronounced.

Dimming of the Day


Into the last of the evening light, the canoe slips through the still water of the quiet River. In that dimming, the Kingfisher makes its last half-hearted effort. His world of the transparent water, has been cut off by the disappearing evening light. Eastward on the weedy back bog, the forlorn frogs serenade into the quietness out of habit for it is fall and thoughts of love are distant and not to be fulfilled.

At canoes edge, delicate mayflies cruse in measured pace as if to ride the invisible slipstream of the moving craft. In learning to fly, which one would suppose was many millions of years ago, and now locked in tiny genes among the spiraled DNA, the technique is to bounce in a  rhythmic pattern moving noticeably up and down while still proceeding ever forward. It is as if they take three wing strokes, and for reasons unknown, pause for the time of three more. One has to wonder if this odd pattern is ingrained in this species as a way to avoid some forgotten predator. Does the trout, the ones we have sought, know this pattern or do they simply wait them out knowing their lives are short and soon will spin dying to water’s surface.

Why they choose to accompany the canoe cannot be embedded in those genes, for the boat, in genetic time, is too recent upon the waters.  Are these pulsating flights simply an opportunity to ride the metaphorical rails, much like a dolphin rides the bow pressure of a plowing boat, or the eagle seeks the ever-lifting warm air. It is a quiet music of a visual sort on the river journey home at the dimming of the day.

Dimming of the Day

Here is an effort that has never been done before on this site as we have really never messed with auto/visual undertakings. It is but a small passing that came about one evening on the Tomorrow River, and in truth on may evenings. Take a listen. 

Dimming of the Day




A Cardinal has a bad Day


There plopped on the back driveway, among all the fallen leaves and pine needles was a brilliant red-colored form. The cardinal laid there not dead but shaken, rather bobbing his head and seeming to have taken too many drugs. One wing reached out while the other was held in. Clearly, the bird was in trouble and hardly made a motion as it was picked up and held gingerly.

It was a sad thing to see such beauty in trouble and we wondered if it was a victim of some bird flu but Eleonore scanned the surroundings and noticed the outline of tiny feathers, red feathers, attached to the garage window left there as a telltale. The impact had been sufficient enough to dislodge the delicate red colorings and enough to knock the bird to the ground. As we used to say on the field of play, he had his bell rung.


We took turns holding the trembling bird making small apologies for the clear glass and the obvious misfortune making note of man’s inventions and how they do not always play well in the natural world. The bird obviously thought the window was an opening and willingly flew into it.

The pathetic bird shivered in trauma. Its head bobbed as if controlling his nervous system was not a possibility. As is said, “He had a six foot stare in a hundred foot forest.” The bird, after examination for broken parts and finding none, was placed in a bed of pine needles where I personally thought it would quietly fly off to the final frontier, but at least in comfort.

As the afternoon passed, the Cardinal remained alive and seemed to become more responsive while feebly and desperately trying to hop and flap its wings, but still there was a haze in those terrified eyes, an unknowing.

I recalled a time in Colorado many years ago when visiting an office building and finding, there lying scattered like dry leaves about the building, a dozen dead Bohemian Waxwings. They had been eating dried miniature apples and then seeing another tree in the window, headed off after it. Silent death. Some observers felt they were intoxicated by the partially fermented fruit and simply ran their cars into the metaphorical light post.

Wanting to wish away a silent death, and reflecting on enjoying the Cardinals this year, I ultimately put the bird, now showing still more improvements, into a cardboard box made comfortable with a nest of the pine needles, and placed it in my studio where the creeping winter frost held no sway. It had occurred to me that one of the silent cats that seem to peruse the area, frequently hanging by our bird feeder trying to take down more song birds, might find the weakened bird and see it as another easy meal. Safety and comfort in my infirmary was the call.

The top was shut, while quietly thinking the morning would find it deceased or still lost in the haze from a serious bird concussion. Still, if I remember right, I always had come out of my concussions and the damage wasn’t real detectable—I don’t think, but I never did learn to fly.

The bird’s pathetic misfortune came up in our household discussion in the evening after our neighbors had headed home, themselves reflecting on the possible loss.

cardina 2l

There is always a certain quilt associated with seeing a life snuffed out by something that is not natural, say a speeding car or even that cat, which was never a part of our real world, taking some hapless unsuspecting bird.  It is one thing to hunt, to be respectful of that process and then consume that game with an understanding we are part of a natural world in that way, but to see things poisoned, crushed or indiscriminately killed by an unnatural process is discomforting.

I walked into the studio this morning thinking it might be a lead-in to a burial, but then just maybe, in the time in quiet repose, his neurons had realigned and all his instinctual attributes had returned. When the box was touched, there was a shuffle that sounded of conviction. There was intent and just maybe the box was not appreciated in its confinement. The  cardboard infirmary was taken outside and opened carefully. Then in an instant the Cardinal lifted straight out of the box and headed out into the sky probably thinking that was one hell of a night. He seemed to look back but I suspect only in confusion and terror.

I put tape on the window and filled the feeder with sunflower seeds wanting very much to see the bird back but if he did not come, I would understand.



The Big Maple—Saying Good-by

The truth is, cutting down the big Silver Maple in the backyard is much like putting down a wonderful old dog. So many thoughts run through our minds many of them more complex than dealing with a suffering canine that has simply worn out.

The tree, now incredibly massive, was probably the result of a planting, on purpose or voluntary, at the same time the home was built over one hundred years ago. Through time, it has had a cable placed to hold its three trunks upright and had numerous cuttings to prevent it from tumbling on all-too-close houses. It is a monster that has taken over the backyard. Cutting it back has only encouraged it to throw out more lean and hungry branches that shoot skyward at ten feet a year.

Then, there are those historical pictures from the turn of the last century that clearly demonstrate that after white man’s short presence, there were few trees standing. That can give pause to a person willingly planning on taking this old brute down. It came from a time of few trees and now I am about to put it down.

It is a Silver Maple, a weed in the mind of some tree elitists, but it has cast much needed shade, provided the home for numerous generations of squirrels, a host of birds and generally added to the flavor of the well-treed community.

To top it off, yesterday a pleading came over the airwaves to grow and protect trees for they are the one thing capable of removing the CO2 from the atmosphere—and it did it on a day when it was eighty-six in September, twenty degrees above normal. But, the tree is mature and its apparent spot-rotting branches hang to some degree over two houses and should it fall, the price to pay would be painful and unappreciated.

Last year the crease in the trunk grew a flush of mushrooms, usually a sign of greater problems and possibly the hollowing of the tree. The hired cutters reminded me, and not out of need to work, that the winds in these warming years have also been more extreme and one good blow could be the old maple’s last. We have had visions of being skewered by some extended branch maybe as a way of taking vengeance for all the environmental harm we have caused in our brief time here on this land.

This year the tree I commonly punched in seven sugar taps, no sap flowed. There was virtually none as if to tell me the game was over; maybe the tree was tired and wanted a last unmolested spring. However, the summer leaves grew strong with the flood of rain.

This same tree also has cast its long shadow on our garden making the broccoli grow long and rangy and the peppers ae struggling to find the sun they deserve, at least that is how they put it. The sunflowers are eight feet tall. The raspberries are so long in branch, they droop and in the closeness to the ground rot before we can turn them to winter’s jam.

That long shadow, particularly in the morning also blocks our solar panels and keeps the batteries wanting. While we try to help the environment with power from the sun, the Silver Maple, the one feeding on carbon dioxide, is hindering our effort, almost slapping our collective hands trying to say something.

While not one to wallow in guilt, this damn tree is rattling my cage. But like the old dog who still may be trying, the maple has to be put down. It has had a good run, there is still some syrup in the cabinet from years past and the wood will heat the house for a couple of years. Like the old fireside dog, it will be replaced possibly making a story for someone else down the line.







The secret world of the artificial fishing fly

Recently I received an artificial fly used to “allegedly” catch the biggest, badest trout around. While I am very aware of a long list of Wooly Bugger designs and configurations, this one came with the name of Mink-tailed Supreme Wooly Bugger labeled by me as a MTS Bugger for easier discussions, and I like acronyms. I am not able to give a more accurate description of this well-crafted fly due to it being the handiwork of a friend, commonly referred to as Rick. To disclose the true nature of a lure of this magnitude would border on the verge of a national travesty subject to a Grand Jury investigation or a Trout Unlimited full disclosure request.

It wasn’t but a day after receiving this beauty, and after having mightily demonstrated the shear effectiveness of this fly by catching an unmentionable amount of large trout, that I received another creation called a Super-Deluxe Pinky Dink (SDP Dink). While I was unable to confirm its prowess (it was rumored to have prowess) due to a fast moving storm, I was able to float it on a local pond as a way of getting a feel for it. The beauty issued delightful floatage, with a delicate touch of natural ambiance, coupled with a flash of pink, sassy but not pretentious, all meant to entice the most cautious fish.

After marveling at the SDP Dink and the MTS Bugger, I remembered last year I bought a couple of Modified Chernobyl Ants in Wyoming. These puppies look like giant ants with white legs, black foamy bodies and iridescent wings. Clearly, an ant that had close contact with some U238 or was it bomb grade U233. The thing was obnoxious, and possibly made to frighten fish, maybe irradiate them—and it was misshapen as if the meltdown had altered its genetics. Word had it they worked on the North Platte River and like a Russian Oligarch, I bought a couple while humming Watching Ivan Glow, and an old Ukrainian folk song in D minor.

A local favorite that I first saw in Alaska was a Purple Egg Sucking Leach, but it was more commonly called a Lawyer Fly. Now someone needs to come up with a Bodacious Giuliani, which is a bigger lawyer fly and makes a gurgling incoherent noise as it imitates a massive leach about to be eaten by giant carp (not political but just an observation).

So after reviewing some catalogs filled with various feathered flies, I found others with entertaining names including Galloup’s Butt Monkey, (might as well have called it Rick’s Ass-Clown). There on the steamer page was a Meat Whistle fly which I thought was creative but I don’t think it made noise like the B. Giuliani. Still, this fly had a nice implication as it might provide sustenance. It was then I found one called Sex Dungeon at $6.95, which must have been targeting migrating fish, you know the ones that swim upstream for a little action. I wasn’t that attracted to it even though swimming upstream still has a nice metaphorical ring to it.

There were other flies that looked like giant centipedes, the kind that drop on you when you are trying to sleep in some third-world prison. You know, they walk across the damp concrete ceiling and then lose their grip and fall on you. I can remember not being able to move even slightly because they would lay down a vicious bite at the slightest provocation. It is an uncomfortable eight inch lure but one that could be used to keep swimmers out of your trout hole.

It was then I realized I had purchased a number of really massive flies for fishing the mighty Musky and they must have had names but I didn’t recall hearing them, other than big honking fly, or something like that. These things are nine inches long, weigh half a pound wet, and require three months of weight lifting to enable the caster to chuck one of these things to distant holes. Mine ( pictured above)  has most all the feather of an entire chicken including the wing primaries, half a Guinea foul, three parrot hackles and a sparrow’s breast feathers for a delicate touch,  not to mention a special canted hook previously used for great whites. I’m modestly calling it a Womping-Stomping Deep-Diving Winky-Dinky, Goat-haired Lip Ripper. The other one, the truly large one, the one that looks like a muscled-up Norwegian rat, is a Horse-nippled, Flatulence-spewing, Short-haired Mousy.

What this all comes down to is that fishing goes way beyond just securing that one giant trout but also exercising the art of accumulating lures and even occasionally spinning a slight fabrication for the purpose of entertainment—particularly when one doesn’t really want to tell folks where or how to secure the big ones like I catch.



Aging in Place

A couple of days ago I learned something new that had a profound affect on me while at the same time potentially adding a new categorization system for various forms of behavior.  A gentleman by the name of John, a new acquaintance from Minneapolis, like me, was a touch age challenged. It seems someone asked him what he was doing while he was sitting leisurely in a most comfortable lawn chair, smiling foolishly for no apparent reason, and like a Buddhist monk, clearly taking in the afternoon as if he was one with life. His reply was, “I’m Aging in Place.”

“Absolutely profound,” I thought, “Enlightened”.

Of course, one cannot spend the rest of his or her time “Aging in Place” in such a matter but that does sum up his time in the lawn chair and I am sure, left his questioner speechless.

What did occur to me is that this outlook on life might have other almost academic applications even though I did not want to spend the rest of my life sitting in the front lawn like Bruce Dern in the film Nebraska waving at all passers-by saying, “Looking good.”

I thought,”Wow, this simple set of words may well be an inspiration for those studying aging, even make a topic for my PHD”.  As a brief note, I would suggest that some of the younger readers not rip-off this thinking, for as of this presentation, it is copyrighted and in order for you to use it in an academic setting, I will have to be compensated like any copyrighted idea. One case of Muddy Puppy Porter will do.

It works like this. If an individual is plopped in his favorite easy chair, say a lazy boy, and is watching pornos this would be aging in place (AGIP) but for clinical reasons could be called AGIP-N. The N being for naughty and connote a dirty old man.

On the other hand, the older person who insists on riding a bicycle at speed, could be said to be AGIP but due to the activity might be seen as AGIP Cat. 5 Ex. The Cat 5 is for category 5 and the Ex for extreme, meaning that the aging here is life threatening and from a clinical point of view borders on idiotic if not insane—potentially self-induced rapid aging.

There, of course, are many in between options to this system. Let’s say I am Aging in Place by sitting in a favorite chair accompanied by a nice single malt Scotch. AGIP-S1 would fit here with the S1 representing special level one. This designation could be amended with, say, Mx for maximum if the beverage was served by a spouse who would say, “Dear, could I prepare an appropriately selected beverage for you?” AGIP-S1-Mx seems fitting.

Aging in Place can take many forms but in the proposed thinking it has to be leisurely and pleasurable which could include a wide range of activities, some of which will not be discussed here, but in this day and this age of non-uniformity, could require a PHD study of a sort all unto its own.

So, we have had the AGIP-N grouping which has negative connotations, but still commonly found, and the positive grouping more to my liking, and easier to talk about in this format. Fishing from a comfortable seat in my boat, on a windless slightly overcast day, in full possession of a Point Special, cleverly attired in my second-and, but handsome Orvis shirt could be AGIP-Cat S3-Mx.

Another category for Aging in Place, and maybe the most important of the bunch has more of a group setting, or we might say a community setting. It could go like this. A content individual is Aging in Place by sitting on a tidy beach on a local lake. The chair is uncommonly comfortable. The person, yours truly in this case, is relaxing after catching a 20-inch bass, a fine wine properly chilled is gracing my hand, I am surrounded by no less than 20 individuals all Aging in Place by chatting (AGIP-C), not necessarily about my caught fish but about the pleasure of life in this community. There are a number of younger folks around (not necessarily AGIP), all of them still contributing graciously to my Social Security fund, some children, all handsome and above average, are there admiring the older AGIP adults and in their hearts intent on taking care of our world. My eyes are partially closed, my mouth in a subtle smile and nothing hurts. I am Aging in Place very nicely and in optimal position. Categorization for this is AGIP-Cat5-S5-Mx 5. It would seem there is this need to designate this condition and take pride in Aging in Place.


VISITATION: While this word almost sounds like something one does at a facility of some sort, say a hospital or a mental institution, it also can mean nothing more than a situation where one person visits another, or one group visits another group. In our case, it means the children and the one grandchild coming to town for a visitation. However, if a person were to witness these events, the vision of a mental institution quickly comes to mind. It’s not an Ed Gein facility but just a loony bin of chaotic characters, much like in The King of Hearts, all full of nonsense and gibberish.

While it is not possible to demonstrate, or discuss all of the buffoonery that goes on, I will offer but one as a way of not defending my family but one that offers insight.

It seems we were on the way back from Madison after visiting friends and other relatives, themselves questionably not totally intact, when we stopped at the ice cream shop all wanting that one big delicious cone. While most of us chose traditional flavors, the twelve year-old kid decided on Blue Moon. We adults looked at each other with a certain level of disgust knowing the flavor was derived from bubblegum, or some lab-produced ester we used to concoct in Chem. 204 at the University.

No sooner had the kid laid a lip on the double scoop, when he was asked if the flavor was Tidy Bowl. Now Tidy Bowl is a color, but also I suppose, has a flavor, but seeing as how it is used to perfume up a toilet bowl, the visual was not enticing.

The cone melted and dribbled up and down the kid and colored up the parking lot as well as making it smell like a facility for relief. It was then the group went mental. Besides the mess, Tanya, our daughter and Jake’s mother, suggested the flavor might be called Luscious Latrine or Porcelain Pony Pop.  The kid grimaced but kept up the pace trying not to be grossed out.

He headed off to a pond of stagnant water looking for his long-sought-after  Bugle-Mouthed Salmon better known locally as a carp. We assumed he was eyeing-up a possible dumping ground so I let fly, “Don’t throw that thing in the water. It will kill the damn fish.”

Jake responded “Knock it off. This is the best and I’m not sharing. You guys are bunch of chum buckets. Scumbags.” Alarmingly, it appeared much of the cone, in this eighty-five degree day, had done some serious migrating about his self and clothing. We reluctantly hopped in the car with all the adults appalled at the sight—and realizing a painter’s tarp may have to be hauled out as well as the six hp power-washer.

Back in the car, the kid kept lapping on the dribbling, artificially colored cone while the rest of us had trouble staying close to sane. “Hey, how’s the Porta Potty Blue going?” was one comment. Then “Porta Potty Periwinkle” followed by Ann’s Eau de Toilette. Everyone in the car was bent with laughter, cringing at the associations and gastronomical implications, maybe a certain disdain, and clearly all fraught with general chaos.  Folks passing by as we left town certainly must have wondered what was going on when they heard the howling coming out of our lunatic filled car. It was a moving Cuckoo’s nest with a grim-faced kid still trying to engage his ill-chosen double-dipper feature cone. The ice cream dribbled wildly. Tanya claimed she had found the perfect name—the final entry in the naming contest, Ice Cream ala Commode.

Jake, the soiled kid, announced he had a belly full and was tired of the Tidy Bowl nonsense. A couple of the critics took a final lick as a confirmation of judgment and jettisoned the remaining mess out the window in a final fit of disgust making note that while the thing was vile, it was probably organic and would quickly return to the soil where it belonged.

Woodpile Envy

Woodpile Envy—Maybe Jealousy.

Is it jealousy, or maybe just green envy that rattles my cage when I see a well-constructed woodpile? Jealously has a personality weakness connotation and I don’t really find myself wanting to push someone’s pile over but rather stop and admire—then maybe twitch with envy, thinking everyone should have one of these—particularly me. I have always burned wood but don’t recall ever being serious about stacking, then again I lived in the dry west and I do not recall an indigenous, wood stacker culture.
wood teppee

Here in industrious Wisconsin the situation is different. If a person casts a wonder eye, it is easy to spot some rather impressive monuments to man’s relationship to wood—and work.

Rick, the Pendleton-clad woodman, boasts a rectangular style, meaning a conventional stack all laid out in parallel rows as if trying to make a statement of organization and convention. He clearly has a solid fixation with one-hundred eighty and ninety degree alignments, and featuring piles to a height of 4.5 feet, but extending lengthwise some 20-30 feet and 10 feet deep. This method would allow one to calculate cubic feet and thus the cordage—thereby pleasing the Chicago School of Economics and mathematicians studying fractals. What is most admirable is the precision of the presentation. Each corner is cross stacked but the interiors are laid on each other horizontally creating a wonderful texture. It is a thing of beauty but rather hidden in the forest and I am sure makes a nice chipmunk condo. Placed by the road it would be a hazard and might create admiration crashes.
wood jim

Jim, in an act cleaning up his woods of windfall, prefers yurt shaped piles with the pieces being stacked on their ends or on some occasions horizontally. The top has a taper of maybe 25 degrees and makes the entire effort look like a Mongolian yurt—even though he is decidedly Irish. The master works of log lugging range in size from 6’- 12’ feet in diameter with a fluctuating edge similar to me after a couple of fine local brews. One standout pile incorporated an upright, and live, oak as if he needed some natural assistance.

I ran into another dramatic style north of town sitting ever-so comfortable up on the hillside next to the road. This endeavor was conical with each piece of hard wood laid against the side in a flawless manner until the finished work was a perfect teepee. However, the biggest surprise was hundred yards up the road and to the south, where there in a field was maybe six pieces of piled, yet to be pilfered, artworks. One of them so large it could be seen from space—say from Nelsonville. All were perfect in effort with the final precipice making the perfect tepee. For the life of me, it didn’t seem possible that a man on foot could assemble this. A ladder had to be used which did beg some questions, like how many person-hours had to go into this prize? There had to be 10 cords in this mound all of it placed in the most deliberate artistic way.

Like I said, I have woodpile envy, maybe some jealousy, so questions had to be asked as to why folks do this. Considering the extra work, there has to be a profound motive. Yes, some people like to be organized, they enjoy having things in place so they are easy to find and use. This may account for some of the efforts. Others are a practical sort who have concluded, maybe by some distant tradition, that by doing it a particular way will encourage drying as the water will run off in a very organized way not promoting fungal growth.

Still, there has to be something else. Each one of these three have an aesthetic touch and that is why I marvel. They are immensely appealing and I am sure every passer-by notes the effort. Still, everyone of these individuals, and this includes me with my scatter schizoid piles loves doing the work, they love being outside, embracing the weather and probably making note that cutting and storing wood warms them multiple times. This includes cutting, loading in the truck, then unloading, splitting, hauling, stacking, toting inside and ultimately cleaning the house from the messes (which very well may be done by someone else.)

The final kiss is the smell of wild wood, drifting smoke, and of course, that radiant heat.

So, the admission here is envy got the best of me, not in a big way, but some and I had to prove my worth. After all, most of the above merits appeal to me. I thought possibly I could take it the next step, a one small step for mankind, and make a holz hausen I had seen while researching woodpile aficionados.
In a fit of labor, and a couple of glorious fall days, the hausen formed with my pride-and-joy of bark shingles. For this winter, I am full of myself, maybe not up to the others but watch out next year.

In Love of Walnuts

In Love of Walnuts:

By David Wright

I was once young, an eight-year old, and by any explanation that was some time ago, in this case embarrassingly close to sixty-five years. This time span is not child’s play and for reasons, not totally apparent, I can’t account for the speed which has consumed that span. Fortunately, there is still a certain lucidity in my mind so that it is possible to recall some things from that time, not only recall them but, most interestingly, to have sensations and vivid memories pertaining to smell. The sensation, I suspect, is only part of it because with the odor of certain items or situations comes images that, while somewhat ethereal, are still, to this old mind meaningful and rich.

We returned here to our home ground 12 years ago. That first fall on our return to Wisconsin, and really, every year since, we have almost without effort, managed to round up at least some walnuts. Initially, I recall simply finding one in glorious repose under a tree. It was unmolested by the resident squirrels as it sat their half buried in the duff like a lost golf ball. Almost instinctively, I lifted the light green orb to my nose. I knew hidden there was a crisp pungent odor of the earth. I knew there were memories, maybe ones lost from living in the west all those years. Like every person, there are childhood experiences associated with distant odors, be it faint hint of a mother’s perfume, or secret smell associated with Port Orford Cedar, the wood used to make our own arrows or the smell of fall as the western Chamisa and sunflowers bloomed on the August prairie of Colorado.

In this case, it was the Black Walnut. Like flying birds rattling through my brain, I was taken back in Sauk County there on the Wisconsin River. In the distant haze of magical memory, I recalled, almost seeing our band of foragers flopping from the car in disarray, gunny bag in hand, heading for some known Walnut tree where waited the green nuts ready for grabbing.


In early October, we would get packed in the old ’36 Chevrolet, in a fashion probably not much different than the family dog, who in glee would hang from the window, jowls flopping in the breeze with spittle running wild, and head for the Baraboo Hills.  While we two kids might have been slugging it out in the back just out of the reach of the old man, I would not be surprised if we two ratty-assed kids were also face to the wind, head out the window yelling and drooling. It was adventure time.

Duward’s Glenn rings a bell as does Parfrey’s Glenn and from there our disheveled troupe would scrounge around looking for all sorts of things including walnuts—but I still recall distant stories  of watching for Timber Rattlers—and hearing the old man excitedly carry on about how he almost put his hand on one—to that we paid attention.

The trip was a family thing and a chance to touch and smell all things wild. I didn’t know then my father was born in New York and raised in Chicago, so in looking back I’m not sure how he managed to become so engaged in this country life. Maybe it was the quiet presence of my mother who had been raised in a more rural setting in northern Illinois. What is now very clear is they had a genuine love for the countryside, the uninhabited, the quiet settings of the forest and fields.

I know at the age of maybe eight, I was already fascinated by the newts, frogs, butterflies and wild growing food my parents were showing us. The smell of the walnut was impossible to miss. Just the slightest scratch of the hull and from it came this rich, earthy odor only found in that one species.

I don’t doubt, knowing our families later history, that it was there we learned to throw things at each other—like fat walnuts. It wouldn’t even surprise me if the my father started it. Later in life there were many childish, rowdy fights with acorns, walnut and apples accompanied by pock-mark wounds, and a few tears all of which that were met with little sympathy. It was the old man, I’m sure.

So therein lies the memory that still drifts around in my head. Scratch the newly fallen walnut and there in front of me is a soft spot, a vision of a family picnic and a sack of walnuts—maybe the burn of being hit by a 65 mph fast (ball) nut from my lousy brother. It is all just good.

Of course, this is not the only wafting odor that sets off the winds of memory, but it is a pleasant one, and one I could wish on any one.

In the last few years I have taken it farther than just momentarily dwelling on the gift of smell but also harvesting local walnuts, hulling them, slowly picking the meats out and then in the great glee of an easily impressed child, introducing them into pancakes and cookies. When the first cookies were made, I noticed the taste of the nuts also rang one of those tiny bells in my brain, not the ones damaged by a few too many concussions, but silver bells of a warm kitchen and still-steaming cookies.

walnut meats

The walnut holds a dear place in my life and due to their abundance around here, we are now able to enjoy every aspect of them almost every year—and that is, without throwing them at aging, still-mouthy brothers—not that we wouldn’t try.