"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
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Nurturing Butternuts in My Outdoor Lab
Copyright © 2002 by Bill Scifres

Excuse me if I appear to be a little giddy today--like a new father, or the owner of a new speckled bird dog pup. It is justified. 

I am much too old to be a new father or even the owner of a speckled bird dog pup. But I was simply enthralled the other day--and I still am--when my wife came in the front door and handed me this oblong, little ol' green thing that looked a little like an immature black walnut, but wasn't. 

"Is this a butternut?" she asked, handing it to me, and adding: "It was on the front porch." 

"Yes! With a capital "Y", I said. But it is not just a butternut, it is my first  . . . my very first . . . butternut from my own tree." 

The thrill lives on. 

Sure, it is only a little old immature nut. But there is a meaning--mainly that that my efforts at saving, nurturing that tree from the time it was a seedling to its present size (a good five inches in diameter). 

It also means that this tree will produce more butternuts in the future and soon they will mature. Some day there will be enough of those beautiful cream-colored kernels for cooking or just plain munching. There would be more butternut trees, and I would have hard evidence to back my claims that all you have to do to establish a jungle--some real wildlife habitat--in your front yard is to quit mowing. 

This whole thing started some 13 years ago when we bought this house high above the west fork of White River west of Fishers. Off and on, we had lived on White River since 1955, so coming back to this most-mistreated, but still beautiful old river was like returning home. 

For two or three years I dutifully mowed the lawn--nearly two acres of it. But then, on a hot summer day I paused in the shade of one of the huge pin oaks to rest. Later, while cooling off with a glass of iced tea on the top deck of the stairway down to water's edge, I realized that I wasn't all that crazy about mowing grass . . . that if I mowed only essential areas, I probably soon would have my own jungle--replete with wild berry patches, et al. 

So I tailed off on the mowing. I still mowed a swath on both sides of the lengthy (300 foot), crushed stone driveway, and around the house, but the rest of my front yard got pretty shaggy. 

Then I started noticing half shells of hard inner butternuts. 

Where did those shells come from? I asked myself. They could not have been washed up to my front yard from the river--it was roughly 50 feet down to the water. Even at flood stage the river would not be halfway up to the level of my lawn. 

The thought that there had to be a butternut tree some place close was exhilarating to a country boy. I pledged to find it. To a country boy, a butternut tree, especially now that the species is threatened by a country-wide disease, is the equivalent of a city boy's burlesque theater. 

For nearly three years I searched the wooded lawns of neighbors for this phantom butternut tree without success. In the meantime, in areas not mowed, and in some areas I continued to mow, strange little trees that looked like black walnut seedlings started showing up. They were (you guessed it) butternut seedlings 

Suddenly I realized that although I did not know from whence the seed for these trees came, I was being offered the opportunity to start my own butternut forest, or at least a grove--thanks to the resident squirrels who well knew the location of the tree for which I searched. 

My search for the source of the butternut seedlings was in vain for several more years. 

But one day as I walked to the mailbox I noticed a fresh half-shell of a butternut. As usual, I bent over to pick it up. When I straightened up my eyes focused on a huge tree two lawns east. In the past I had written it off as a maple (the bark looked mapleish) without looking closely enough to see that it really was/is the biggest butternut tree I have ever seen. 

It was like getting money from home without asking for it. 

As my front-yard jungle has developed under the direction of the best and, price wise, the most reasonable landscaper of all--Mother Nature--I have acquired my own black raspberry patch. And by stacking the brush from the big blue spruce (a storm victim) just right, I have lured in a family of red foxes, not to mention groundhogs, deer, rabbits, numerous birds (including both diurnal and nocturnal raptors), and who knows what else. And there are seedlings--turning into saplings--of several other species of trees. 

My jungle, it seems, is more than a jungle. It is an outdoor laboratory in which I can learn many things about the natural world that surrounds us all. 

Little wonder that a little ol' shriveled up, immature butternut would make me a little giddy. 


All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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