Tyler Van Fleet Tuesday, 03 November 2015
What do a New York City sidewalk and a forest trail have in common? Surprise air assaults. From acorns, that is. For weeks now, the pin oaks on my block in Queens have been bombarding passers-by with fertile missiles. Neighbors compete for the few parking spaces outside the strike zone, hoping to avoid a dented hood … or head.
One fall day after work, I leave the office and cross the street for a short hike. On the trail I hear soft thuds all around me. Red oak acorns fall on dry leaves, bare soil, or rock – each surface producing its own sound, like a drum set. I try to track the acorns from freefall to landing pad, but they blend in instantly. I crouch down and scan for nuts. My eyes bounce over browns, grays, and greens when I suddenly catch a streak of bright yellow. Now that I have a search image, the outlines of dozens of acorns come into focus, each one at a unique phase in its transition from green to yellow to brown.
Still crouching, I sweep my arms over the ground and start picking up acorns as quickly as I can, like my life depends on it for dinner, for survival. From the jumble, order begins to emerge. I place the acorns in a line, moss tufts nudging that line into a wave. I’m close to the ground, smelling soil, hearing distant traffic, seeing the story of a single acorn acted out by a parade of many.
Green summer gives way to yellow autumn and brown winter. Back in Queens, we kick acorns out of the way, rake them into piles for the street sweeper to suck up, and curse their lucky aim. Here in the woods, the nuts roll to a resting place and wait. Some will be stashed by gray squirrels and blue jays. Others will be drilled by weevils. The lucky ones will send a small white root into the Earth and grow. And there are those selected few that will be gathered, sorted, and thanked by a human with a clearer, freshly dented head.