Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gathering Hickory Nuts

It's a good year for hickory nuts.

Hickory trees are a hardwood that has been used for fences, furniture, and switches.
Someone cooking 'way back yonder' discovered food had a different taste when it was cooked over hickory sticks or coals. Once used as food by native Americans and settlers, the nuts are most highly valued by squirrels now. When I went squirrel-hunting with my daddy as a child, we would look for hickory trees, knowing that would be where we would find the most squirrels. Daddy liked to go real early, when most animals and little girls were still sleeping, so my trips with him were few and sporadic.

Our house has a huge scaly bark hickory tree just off the deck in the back. This majestic tree provides shade for the house and yard. It is home to countless birds and insects. This time of year, when the mature nuts are falling, the hickory tree and the ground under it teems with squirrels gathering for winter. If my daddy was still living and wanted to go squirrel hunting, he could do so sitting on the deck.

My home office, where I spend way too much time while I'm home, has two windows that look out on the deck. When I look up from the computer, most of the time I see squirrels busy at work, chasing the hickory nuts that have fallen there. I wish I could train them to take the hulls, too. When the mature nuts fall from the tree, the hull breaks into quarters exposing the nut. These quarter hulls, their edges sharp enough to injure feet, get wedged in the cracks of the deck boards. They cannot be swept up or blow away by the leaf blower. Screwdriver in hand, I crawl along the deck and remove them one by one.

You would think I would get used to it, but every year, the noise of falling hickory nuts crashing on the deck makes me jump. On October and November nights, I lay in bed and listen to them thump, thump, thumping on the deck as the autumnal winds assist the hickory tree in reproducing itself. Every spring, we have to cut down numerous hickory sprouts that come up in places where we don't need another tree. If humans would leave them alone, hickory trees could take over in no time.

The tree was here before my house was built. It may be there long after the house has fallen in unless there is natural or human interference. Despite my ongoing battle with the hulls, barring lightning or a tornado, the tree is safe as long as I live here.

 When the hickory nuts fall on the deck, the outer shell is broken off, leaving the bare nut.  My little dog, Sherlock, has learned to crack the shells and eat the nuts.  This amazes me; his jaws have got to be pretty strong!  We feed him plenty, so he must do it out of boredom.  Or, maybe he is just tired of dog food.