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