The weather has toyed a bit with our emotions this week. It seems as if it’s going to be a very nice cool Fall day, and then by mid-afternoon, the humidity picks up, and you find yourself sweating just enough to be uncomfortable. This is honestly nothing to complain about, compared to the heat we endured throughout the summer, but when you get a taste of perfection, it’s tough, for a while, to except anything else.
The Chestnut Oaks around camp have begun to let go of their leaves in droves. Several times walking in the woods, I began to wonder if it was starting to rain, only to figure out I was just hearing a lot of acorns falling from the sky. These particular acorns are pretty big, and their noise may confuse you into thinking that something is rustling around in the woods surrounding you. It is easy to get startled if one falls on your roof, and you aren’t on guard. They manage to sound much louder than you think they should. It sounds like someone is hurling a rock at your house. If one lands just right, you might even think someone is shooting at you. It’s just the acorns, though.
I’m sure the squirrels have at least a little to do with this. Sure, when the wind picks up the tree is bound to shake all its acorns loose. But, the squirrels must be at work, trying to speed up the process. The acorns and hickory nuts must be their prime food source throughout the year (with the exception of the park squirrels and the ones that stalk the camp loading dock). And, in September and October, lo and behold, half the trees in the forest are loaded down with them. What would it be like if your favorite food was in trees by the thousands, and you were a little acrobat with a fluffy tail, not afraid of any kind of height? If there were cheeseburgers or chocolate bars or tacos, pizza slices, or ice cream cones sprouting in hoards from 150 foot trees. You’d do what they do. Bounce around from branch to branch, making them fall to the ground, until the whole forest floor was littered with pork chops or maybe peanut butter sandwiches.
We noticed, several days ago, that there were clouds of gnats floating through the air wherever you walk. They get stirred up like an annoying dust storm, and there are so many of these little clouds that you can’t avoid walking through one. If you manage to get away from the cloud, you inevitably have several who stay with you. I don’t know what it is the gnats want from us, but it seems as though the more annoyed you get, the more they want to be near you. The more you swat at them, the quicker they come for you. And, their two favorite places on the human body are possibly the two most annoying to have a gnat: the ear and the eyeball. At least mosquitoes normally have the common decency to stay around your ankles and forearms. The gnats are sure to get near your ears, so you hear that terrible squeal noise getting closer and closer and shriller and shriller. Then, there’s the eyes. I’ve wondered if maybe my approach of swatting at the gnats was the wrong way to go. “Maybe if I just ignore them, they’ll move on. Maybe it’s just my reaction that keeps drawing them towards my face,” I pondered. So, I tried to just ignore the gnats, let them fly in front of my eye, and hope they would move on. Instead, they just fly straight into my eyeball, getting sucked under my eyelid when I blink, and stuck in front of my eyeball like someone just threw dirt in my eye. Why is this so appealing to them? It will undoubtedly kill them to be stuck in my tear duct drowning in eye fluid. How can an organism have lasted so long on this earth when it has an instinct to drown itself in human eyeballs?
So, as you walk on the trail this week, you must be careful of the face-swarming gnats, falling acorns, and the acorns already fallen. It seems that many of the acorns have not been gathered by the squirrels or did not meet their rigorous standards of acorn quality. This creates a hazard similar to a marble spill on a hard-wood floor. You have to be careful when you find these pockets of 10 or 20 fallen acorns. They can make you look funny real quick. But, if you’re walking alone in the woods, the only ones likely to see you are the squirrels who created the hazard in the first place. Who knows, maybe they left a few there for an occasion such as this? Some sort of security alarm for them. Or, maybe they are just practical jokers. If your favorite food was the banana, maybe you’d do the same thing to see the other, more sophisticated animals of the forest slip like Charlie Chaplin. They’d fall down, look around to check if there was no one there, dust themselves off, and move along more cautiously, still looking over their shoulder to see who might be watching. You’d see it all from your stoop on a tree branch 30 feet high.
People rarely look up into the trees. On days when I go treeclimbing, I love to watch people walk by who don’t notice at all that there is a guy 30 feet high in the Red Oak in the tree they just passed by. I’m there plain as day. But they carry on with their important business, never knowing that someone is there watching. We rarely take our eyes off the path to look up and and around at what else is watching us. The stuff that gets in our way is the only stuff we really pay attention to. Do it every now and then, though. You might be surprised. There might be a squirrel playing a practical joke on you. There could be a tree full of your favorite dish. There might even be a person there, willing to strike up a conversation about what it’s like to catch a view from the bow of a 110 year old tree. There are far more voices than the ones we plan to hear.