Monday, December 5, 2011


 MANY YEARS AGO, WHEN WE FIRST MOVED TO THE COUNTRY, THE YARD WAS ALMOST TOO MUCH FOR US TO HANDLE. The house, itself, needed a lot of attention, and we agreed that first year, to tend to the house and let the yard work out its own details. We didn't consult with the yard to see which direction it might want to express itself, and we ended up with the jungle themed landscape, a forest of fifteen foot high ragweed, which cast a mysterious green light over the pathways to the house, to the barn. Chandra was five, and one day, helped his papa trim away some of the weeds. Michael was cutting down the tall stalks with pruning shears while my oldest “helped” by going all machete on the surrounding weeds using a stick as his blade. At that time we had no squirrels in the yard. I attributed the deficiency to the skills of the mighty huntress, Isis, but since then I have witnessed plenty of squirrels who manage to survive the dogs, and I realize now that the real cause was the absence of nut trees in the yard. Yet, somehow, a walnut had fallen into the weeds and sprouted. When Michael came upon the nutling, he carefully trimmed around it and carried on. But instead of a future tree, Chandra saw a worthy adversary of his own stature. Whap! Whist! Shoop! And the victor went on in search of new challenges. The little walnut tree lay on the ground, wilting and forlorn. As Micheal tells it, the tree was pretty well decapitated, and he figured it was gone, but somehow it sprouted anew, or maybe the damage was not as great as Michael feared. At any rate, the little tree grew straight and tall until the time when Chandra left for college, it was a real tree, growing above the housetop and helping to shade and cool us in the summer and break the wind in winter.

 About five years ago, the little tree produced nuts for the first time—just a handful—but it was enough to bring the squirrels to our yard, and Isis spent the last few years of her life tolerating them, while Ursa chased them madly around. They would frustrate my puppy endlessly by scampering up the trees, leaving her barkety-bark-bark below. Each year brought more nuts and more squirrels. Now the tree is perhaps entering its prime. I have collected bushels and bushels of walnuts from that one young tree. In the evenings I crack them carefully, with my heavy-duty cracker, which I sent for online. I've cracked so many that the bolt holding the spring mechanism split in two, and I had to replace it. A 60 cent bolt to repair a $70 nutcracker—the best money I've ever spent.

I think of Chandra's tree as I pack a box to send him for his birthday. It's hard to figure out what to send him, since he got so big and tall and can buy whatever he wants. Also, he recently told me about his ambition to pare down his the material stuff in his life, so I decided to go back to basics. I remembered what my friend, Emily, said when I gave her a basket of fancy chocolates for her birthday long ago: “I love consumable presents!” I went to the international food store and wandered around with a shopping basket, picking up items that I hoped would delight him: a little pot of lime blossom infused honey, a can of pulpitos (the little octopi we used to eat in Barcelona), a package of bagel-shaped sesame biscuits the size of a half-dollar, and packed in a tight cylinder of cellophane, and some fancy chocolates. At home I added some granola bars I made, plus the recipe, and a bag of walnuts from his tree. I added a note asking him to watch for shells. I try to be careful, but even with care I sometimes find some tiny shards of shell. Walnut is a hardwood; might as well be made of rock.

And now I wait with glee to hear that his box has arrived. It's scheduled for the day before his birthday. I think of him opening these modest little gifts, and contemplate how I want the gifts I give to delight, not burden my loved ones.

Give in Beauty; Share in Peace; Blessed Be.

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