The heavy thud of black walnuts falling to the damp ground is a constant for a few weeks in the fall.
I didn’t know anything about this particular variety of tree nut until we moved to northwest Arkansas. Having spent my childhood in pecan country, Texas and south Arkansas, where even the standard walnut seemed a little foreign and exotic- the black walnut was completely new to me.
When I first saw the big green globes hanging in the trees, I actually speculated that they were a variety of bois d’arc or horse apples as we called them when we were kids. Didn’t take long to figure out that they were a nut under all that green hull and that they dye your fingers a dark walnut color pretty quickly when you pick a few up off the ground.
Of all the trees in the Ozarks, black walnut trees are not the most gorgeous tree in the woods. They can be straggly and rangy looking, the last to set leaves in the spring and the first to show yellow and fall in autumn. Their occupation is to create these hard to crack nuts and then rest for the balance of the year.
We had several on our property, and I must say, one of the nicest looking black walnuts was on the northwest side of the shack. It was not crowded by any other trees, far enough away from the huge white oaks in front and just enough room from the tree lined fence on the north part of the dog yard.
Each season, for however long it chose, it was a full and quite nice shade tree, airy and lacey, given dappled light to the yard swing and perennial lily bed. Bob would sit on the step at that end of the porch, while I sat in the swing and listened to him play his guitar, or we would play ball with the dogs in the shade of that walnut tree.
A cottage industry springs up in the fall as the nuts ripen. A local company will buy the nuts from anyone who shows up with a bag or truck load. So many an afternoon along the narrow Ozarks roads, you will see folks with sacks or buckets retrieving the fallen nuts.
In autumn, when the harvest began, a young family would drive slowly up our little lane, the dad driving and the mom and her two youngsters would pick up the fallen walnuts. Tossing them into the trunk or one year in the back of the station wagon, they would pick the road clean. Each year when they came by, they would ask if they could gather the walnuts from our tree. Of course, that was always fine and we welcomed them each season.
I always hoped it would help them – this was a hard way to earn money. When you took the walnuts to sell, they would place them in a spinning hopper to release the nut from the hull. Once that was done, the nuts were weighed and you were paid $11.00 for one hundred pounds! That took a whole lot of nuts in the back of a station wagon to bring home $11.00.
With each gust of wind, I hear the heavy thuds – its black walnut time in the Ozarks.
**** Dear Readers, I know it has been too long between stories of the shack. I am in the process of editing the previous stories and The Last Really Good Shack will soon have its own blog. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy these little snippets of our life in the Ozarks.