Nashotah House was a strange place to begin (and end) a teaching career. Not only did you see students every day, but as faculty you were required to eat and worship with them twice a day. (You were grudgingly permitted to have supper at home, with family, if applicable.) You got to know students, and sometimes their families, well. I suppose that was the point. We had a lot of students from Texas, and one year a student spouse said she cried all the way home when she found her first colored leaf on the ground. Granted, Wisconsin winters could be cold. Even here in balmy Pennsylvania we have to use the furnace from October through May, leaving only four months of the year without artificial heat. And even September can get pretty chilly. I was thinking about this student spouse when I started to see the walnut trees turning yellow in July.
Yes, each plant has its own rhythm. Not all of them need all their leaves until October or November. Walnuts, however, are an interesting species (or whatever the plural of species is). The walnuts you eat are probably of the Persian or English walnut variety. Here in the United States, the Eastern Black Walnut is perhaps the most common deciduous tree east of the Mississippi, but since the nuts are hard to crack they aren’t grown commercially. Squirrels worship them. The EBW (do I really have to type out Eastern Black Walnut again?) is famous for its use of allelopathic chemicals. Some people say it poisons the soil, but more specifically, allelopathic plants distribute chemicals into the soil that favor the growth of “friendly” species and inhibit others. Yes, plants are quite smart. The EBW is also wise in its use of the squirrel. These ubiquitous chewers disperse the nuts widely. It isn’t uncommon for me to find one on my porch when I go out for my early morning constitutional.
The air is beginning to feel cool once in a while in the early mornings. Like the walnut trees and the squirrels, I think I’m at the very early stages of feeling autumn coming on. We’re still many weeks away from the colors of fall, harvest, and Halloween, but the wheel of the year is still turning. It never really holds still. We have the languorous month of August ahead, with its long, warm days and summertime activities. The walnuts stand as sentinels, however, reminding us that nature is ever restless and ever inclined to change. I don’t weep to see the changing leaves, but I do marvel at how nature seems to plan ahead for autumn, even in the midst of summer.