Friday, December 02, 2016

COILUMN: Walnuts

Well, it's official, Quad Cities: I'm a hypocrite.

Exactly one month ago, I thought it would be a swell idea to write a column about the recent push to legalize backyard chickens within the city limits of Rock Island and other area communities. Since I'm generally not a fan of most non-cat-related elements of nature, I expressed my concerns in writing about the potential ramifications of sharing my neighborhood with wayward poultry.

I had NO idea how many people out there cared so very deeply about chickens. Within MINUTES of my column printing, my inbox was full of messages of support alongside vitriolic e-mails telling me I needed to -- and I quote -- "eat a chicken butt," an act which I believe has some cultural signifigance in certain Asian societies AND provides a healthy dose of protein, iron, and calcium, so thanks for thinking about my physical and spiritual health, people.

Yes, I made swift work angering urban farmers around the area... but the truth is, I can't rail against urban farming when I've been allowing it to happen on my own property for years now.

It's been half a decade now, but I can still recall my realtor talking up the great shade afforded my back yard from my neighbor's tree. The tree may belong to them, but the shade from it is mostly mine. What a luxury! Last year, I (and by I, of course, I refer to paid professionals who actually know how to do things) poured a concrete parking slab out back for friends to park under the cooling shade of my neighbor's majestic tree.

My neighbor's majestic walnut tree. Any guesses where I'm going with this?

Walnut trees are big and splendid and one of nature's finer creations. They also spend half the year pooping out walnuts onto everything you own and care about. Each time the wind gusts, I can look forward to what I call the "clunk and roll," as walnuts land onto my roof and then rrrrroll down and off the edge. This I've learned to cope with.

But this year, for some reason, the tree's been in overdrive. 2-3 times the normal amount of walnuts have been dripping off this thing for the past umpteen weeks. My yard now looks more like the world's most un-fun ball pit at a backwoods Chuck E. Cheese knock-off.

I wanted to trim the tree back, but again, "I" in this equation refers to hiring people skilled in the fine art of tree mauling. Have any of you paid to have a tree professionally trimmed? It's not cheap. The first quotes I received were four digits long and made my eyeballs pop out of my head in cartoon horror. Eventually I found a guy willing to do it within my budget, but I'd have to allow him to drive his bucket truck over my neighbor's lawn, which is a lot to ask considering the tree I want to maim belongs to the neighbor in the first place.

My neighbor consented to the task at hand, but we needed couple of dry weeks without rain to avoid putting ruts in the yard, and I'm pretty sure the last time we went two weeks without rain, we were still laughing about Donald Trump's chances of being the Republican nominee. My only other option was to let my dad have a go at it, which he eagerly campaigned for until I discovered his plan involved a homemade improvisation he was calling "chainsaw-on-a-stick." I'm pretty sure that's not on anybody's recommended list of hobbies for a 70-year-old with a bad back, so I put my foot down before he cut his foot off. With MY track record, I'm gonna need that man able-bodied for decades to come.

So as the days have dropped off the calendar, so too have the walnuts dropped upon my lawn. I suppose I could go out with a few trash bags and toss them all in, but I'm nothing if not committed to my motto of "YARD WORK NEVER!" Besides, that's where the urban farmers I employ come in. For years now, I have let a pair of black squirrels set up shop in my backyard. Mr. and Mrs. Poofytail (the neighbors named them, I swear) have but one job: wrangling those walnuts as fast as the tree drops them. Its supposed to be symbiosis: they live rent free at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I get my walnuts cleaned up for free.

There's just one problem: Mr. Poofytail HATES me. I can't walk out back without seeing him glaring at me and chirping, "Fk! Thp Pft!" As God is my witness, on multiple occasions I've watched him curse me out, run up the tree, and try his best to drop walnuts onto my head. One afternoon, I was fumbling for my keys when I realized my head was wet. I looked up and there he was, chewing me out with a harsh "thp pft!" Now, I don't know if that squirrel somehow hoisted and spilled bottled water on my head, or maybe he spitefully chucked a water balloon my way. I'll choose ANY story other than the one where a squirrel peed on my head, because that's the kind of humiliation that haunts your nightmares forever.  

That freak storm we had a week ago sent DOZENS more walnuts to the ground. You could now take them from my lawn by the wheelbarrow full (and please do.) Maybe laziness will win and they'll eventually compost and make my lawn lush and beautiful. Happily, I just saw today that the Poofytails appear to have hired a staff of migrant farm squirrels to assist their cause, because no fewer than a dozen of them are out there now going to town on my walnuts. I wish them all the luck in the world, because otherwise I'm forced to Google "things to do with walnuts," where I just discovered that walnuts can be turned into low-grade explosives, which would certainly be an efficient way to rid myself of walnut trees and malicious head-peeing for keepsies.

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