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Early in the season, the luminous green highlights of the windblown acorns alert you. It has begun. The ripe dark ones require a more careful eye against the leaf mulch. Hands reaching wide, acorn after acorn is plucked from the mossy spread of roots.

A moth moves freely over the tree bark, tessellated in faux lichen. It slows on your hand, antennae down, it's cover blown by this encounter with smooth flesh. Merveille du Jour. Flying only in this season of brambles and ripe ivy berries, and dependant on oak for its’ laying of eggs, its presence entwines in your mind with this first falling. A teller.

You follow your feet and bodily intuition across the terrain, rarely looking up. Dot to dot, they prescribe a path of sorts. Wade across waves of dried bracken, then sink low to reach between long stems, retrieving seeds to tuck safely into pockets.

There’s plenty for everyone evidenced by collections of empty caps, shrewed and mouselled, the sites of past feasts. Your fingers rove across territories where others will dance and gorge. Human eyes miss more than they see, safeguarding, sharing with the next.

It’s a mast year, a bumper year. Who knows if or when such abundance will fall again? This is the forest pushing for expansion, acting collectively to produce more than can be eaten.

Sometimes a nut is not a nut. Sometimes it is a mushroom, thrusting upwards with the same rounded jut and expectant life force.

As the days go on, you take multiple bags with you, learning that even a stroll can become primetime gathering.

When the nuts are falling, be outside. There’ll be other times to write.

Ask the trees, “any babies?”

Submerge a hand within the bag as it fills, a rolling density of silken weights. Witness their colour variation, the blush of dusky pink against tan, the darkening flush of full button brown.

Each tree gathered from expands the genetic range of the hoard; our roaming attention and meandering footfall a natural propensity towards diversity.

A full bag is left swinging from a tree branch, anchoring your return.

Which creatures have these trees danced with? To whose habits did these seeds evolve?

In this fragment of ancient woodland the evolutionary dance partners of the oak are conspicuous by their absence. No flick of undulating squirrel tail and no sign of the jay— just still out of range.

Would they return if you learned the steps, played their game, extended the edges, rolled out the seed of these geriatric oaks, who stand, free-falling into decline with no next generation yet growing behind.

Not all the seeds collected will be viable, each collection scored in half like the crafting of a poem.

Take off their caps first as these will make the seeds float (a buoyancy aid for possible passage?)

Separate them in water. The full, viable seeds sink slowly to the bottom (although no method is certain). Give them time. Skim off the floaters; hollow, half-formed or weevilled, but watch out for any sprouters, as these will float too.

Collect leaf mulch and compost from beneath the mother trees; a skeletal, fibrous humus. That mycorrhizal tang of death life will incubate the seed into the forest network from the very beginning.

Layer the acorns and damp compost into a tub, the lid perforated with holes.

Place this precious, heavy bounty somewhere mouse-proof, somewhere cool and dark, emulating the position an acorn might hope to be tucked into by a forgetful creature.

Coolness slows their germination.

Leave to ripen, checking periodically to see if they’ve started to chit.

The radicle root pushes through, breaking out of its skin-shell enclosure.

Will they push through into your dreams, take root in your daily thoughts?

Get ready to act. You could plant them out now once rooted, or wait until they send out their plumule shoot in spring. You could grow them in a nursery bed, offering protection until they’re saplings, or you could take a chance and follow the seams of the land out beyond the edges of the woods, burying them direct: playing the jay.

We look up and realise this is a mast year. There are infinite collectives of gatherers— nutters— pushing for the expansion of the forest. Talk of seed collecting and tree planting are abundant. Permeating, pushing through cultural scenes from schools to charities to YouTube.

Networks of hype and hyphae, old timers and fresh converts, inoculating knowledge on message boards, playing the same ancient game but with renewed urgency. Trading tips: simple, embodied experience born from spores of curiosity; hard- earned threads widely shared, linked and trailing.

Ancestral lifelines passed between hands, weaving webs with the forest.

By the end of the season, when they’ve ripened to a rich dark brown, it will be their staring white eyes that catch your own when out in the woods. But you walk away, having long since reached saturation.

Your departure is marked by the confetti fall of common spangle galls. Released from the underside of oak leaves these ginger-green discs stake their claim within the cycle, laying the next intricate rhythm of dependency.

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1 Comment

Jeff Clarkson
Nov 27, 2019

Where are all the Jays? Are they too busy stealing gold rings in fairy stories?

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