The sky is falling

by Kristin on July 26, 2007

in Everyday life, everyday people,Small town in the midwest

Every morning for the past month or so, Jason and I have awoken to the sound of golf balls falling from the sky. The sound of golf balls, mind you, not actual golf balls. Instead of errant golfers, we have gangs of evil squirrels throwing black walnuts down like ammunition.

As we lie in bed, windows open to an otherwise peaceful morning, they thud on the roof of the house then roll down, landing on the back porch with a pop. They bounce off the hoods of our cars in the driveway, making us wince. A brief storm of them will suddenly hail down on the garage roof, as if two squirrels are wrestling near large clusters of nuts.

The other sound we hear as we lie in bed, wishing desperately for only the idyllic sounds of singing birds, is the sound of extended squirrel families munching away on their black walnut breakfasts. Their teeth make squeaky noises on the green outer flesh of the walnut, like someone aggressively cleaning a windowpane with glass cleaner and a paper towel.

Once these rude rodents have worked their way into the center of the nut, they begin littering the inedible remains (which seems to be about three-quarters of the whole package) all over the driveway, cars, back porch, tomato garden, back yard, and patio furniture. This sounds a bit like freezing rain striking a hard surface, in case you’re wondering.

Black walnuts are actually green on the outside, and are remarkably heavy. The inside of the nut tells you everything you need to know about how they got their name. Once opened by a squirrel or crushed by a car, black walnuts stain everything that’s capable of being stained. Like a beach towel hung out to dry, for instance. Or a nice new driveway. Or your hands, when you laboriously collect the debris from all over the yard.

The nuts, whether broken or whole, hurt, too. My poor children can’t frolic in the yard with bare feet, like children in summertime should. And when it’s time to mow the lawn…well, I could go on and on.

Something had to be done, so I began calling numbers in the “Tree Services” section of the Yellow Pages. After several estimates, it looks like it’s going to cost about $800 for a thorough trimming, or $2,000 to take the whole thing out. Am I tempted to shell out the two grand to cut down this otherwise beautiful, enormous old tree? You bet.

But it shocks me to see this recurring temptation playing through my mind. As a child in a relatively new neighborhood, I dreamed of living in an old house on a tree-lined street. I played in and under the largest tree in our neighborhood, then wrote a letter to the newspaper editor when the tree was slated to be cut down to expand the hospital parking lot. Trees were living creatures with personalities and feelings! I was sure of it! (It’s possible I had read Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree a few too many times.)

I was raised to respect trees, though. More than once my family traveled through the Redwoods in California, where trees were revered, photographed and hugged. And my favorite natural spot as a child was the woods of Northern Michigan, where my grandparents had a cottage. To be surrounded by trees was to be safe and content and at peace.

Six years ago, when my ex-husband applied for a teaching position at the university here, my first thought was “I can’t live there. It’s surrounded by corn fields. There can’t be any trees.” When we finally got off the highway and into the community for the first time, my fears were put to rest.

Not only are there trees, but Urbana was the first city in the state to be given the distinction as a national “Tree City.” I have to include this overly poetic bit from the Tree City website: “Urbana Illinois is enveloped by a thriving urban forest whose summer canopies shade the town in rich green hues and excite the city with spring pastels and fall brilliance.” Excite the city indeed. And, later: “”With over 100,000 public and private community trees, one can understand why Urbana be”Leaves” In Trees.”

So now I’m living in the neighborhood of my childhood dreams, and I beLeaf I am tempted to take out the oldest tree on my property. If I could methodically take out all the mocking squirrels, I would gladly do that instead. Unfortunately I’m not a good enough aim.

For the time being, our plan is to give the tree a second chance at life. Three major limbs—one over the garage and driveway and the other two resting heavy with walnuts on the roof of the house—are going to go. A smaller limb hanging too low over the middle of the back yard, making badminton impossible, will also be wished good riddance. Then we’ll see.

The whole process reminds me a bit of how I might work my way toward a drastic haircut: First you try something more modest; then, if you’re not in love with the results, you take a deep breath and go for it.

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