Food grows all over this city. (In three parts.)

Part One. Polite.

All this time on my hands is turning into an inrushing of ideas and long list of projects.

This summer on the coast has had the warmest weather of the last several years, maybe even the best since I moved back to the coast more than a decade ago. Out front of our house is a black walnut tree that grows on the property next door and largely overhangs our driveway, providing a beautiful limey canopy under constant bounce and sway from the squirrels in charge of this year’s harvest, which appears to be the best. harvest. ever.

It has been bugging me for a while, this tree–not because of the squirrel spit coating the sidewalk, the driveway, the car, and anyone standing still, along with chewed green hull bits, broken branches, sub par nut bundles, and dirt in general thrown sometimes violently down by the fatting grey squirrels who chuckle at us low-slung humans and our maladroit addictions to whatever purchased ease obediently follows the trajectory of credit card to mouth–but because the tree is full of food every year and nobody bothers with it except for the ruthless and presumably parasite-free squirrels.

So, add to my list of things to do this Fall: harvest what is left of the nuts once they are ripe, and do good things with them.

Among the items I will need in order to proceed fruitfully, are these:

one hammer or vise grips
wire snips
heavy duty rubber gloves
one bottle of cheap vodka

Sounds like some . . . industrial fun?

Here is the video.

And here is Sacred Earth’s charming ethnobotany page on walnuts. The pristine nut images shown represent English walnuts, not black walnuts, but its archaic recipes of course apply to either.

This wikihow article includes remarks about boiling green walnut hulls for an antiparisitic treatment, as well as links to related articles, including the recipe for cheap vodka black walnut tincture. I have quite a few books on herbal preparations to shore up ones like these, but I find it heartening that such information is more and more available online.

There really is a lot of food growing in the city, once you start to see it. One night I plan to do a little guerrilla foraging. There are the usual volunteers of indigenous berries and herbaceous plants, lots of kinnickinnick, comfrey, dandelion, salal, etc. But I have a couple of places in mind that I plan to visit with a little stealth . . . including a sidewalk-bordering garden with a beautiful spineless blackberry we discovered during one epic urban walkabout. Surely a little cutting, respectfully snipped, would not be missed . . .

Part Two. Impolite.

The first thing I looked into while I was casually considering the walnuts was how to get the squirrels to help with the harvest. I heard about the idea from the permaculture community.

Even though it raised a couple of issues for me, I do not link to the discussion thread that I found on this topic, for two reasons: the first is that I reject the choice of the word “using,” as in, “using squirrels to harvest nuts.” Especially in the context of permaculture, I find this attitude base and unimaginative. Why not think of “working with” non-human species, as opposed to “using” them? Or, since it is as good a guess as any that the squirrels may not consent to cooperation with humans, why not think of “tricking” them? Shows a little more respect.

My so far brand-new, inexperienced, untried understanding of permaculture is that it observes what comprises and what affects the (natural) world, and one’s own locale, with the aim of working with the elements and sectors, rather than against them. A sign of imbalance–such as an overpopulation of squirrels (or deer, or rats, or mice, or mosquitos, or bunnies on campus, or broom, or blackberry, or whatever else thrives in a disturbed environment)–reflects an imbalance in the big picture, a lack of biodiversity. In this sense, the attitude implied by “using” comes off as a domineering and self-congratulatory power trip, instead of a generative, participatory sense of informed respect–not to mention an attitude rich with creative thinking.

The second reason I chose not to post that thread is that its comments devolve almost immediately into a discussion of using nuts to harvest squirrels, which is not the point of the topic, and is a totally unoriginal proposal when it comes to cohabiting the planet with creatures who live alongside us and have the same fundamental need/wish to eat.

These days I feel perpetually grossed out by how the one response you can absolutely count on to the “problem” of “animal” “pests” is to kill them. It seems to me that underlying this reaction is a creeping discomfort about “animals” that are not under our control. In the urban setting, the populations of deer, raccoons, squirrels, bunnies (or whatever) are so upsetting to the status quo that I am reminded of the rhetoric around the homeless, the drug addicted, the elderly, the ill–all the icky embarrassments that warp the veneer of deserving affluence and civilized order, revealing ugly entropy and death. And yes, I am reminded of the same kind of rhetoric that exists, very muffled, around the damn, drunken . . . er, ah, hmm. You know, they who pop up all over town, in our neatly gardened neighbourhoods, our empty green healing spaces, and our universities? off the reservation? refusing welfare? refusing social services? just doing god only knows what they are doing, and upsetting the tourists? without the decency to at least wear loincloths and headdresses while standing silently ready to polish our rose-coloured Pradas and heal our troubled souls?

Part Three. Unpolite.

What is this wildness. It makes me nervous and itchy and afraid. It makes me want to burn my house down. It makes me want to binge and purge and why am I not always screaming with all this violence in my soul? Those damn ticky tacky deer ate my thousand dollars and then looked at me with those eyes like a chocolate pool in the brown sun forest at the end of the world on the eighth perfect day. Why does it not need me. I deserve a massage. It is my right to go to the spa. I need a painkiller, a movie, a gun, an umbrella, a hobby, a helper to take off my mind. This restless skin ripples around me, unsettled, this skin waits to flee me, unpinned. It is my right to want to go to sleep at night. I do not like this wildness. I have a membership. I am on the inside committee. I have a voice. I have a right to have a voice. I have a right to prove I have a voice. I have a right to vote my right to prove myself and my day at the spa and a sleepless night in this rippling skin. I deserve to be earplugged against the wind, rolled over, ignoring the ones who move in-between houses outside, the rabid wolves, the undressed youth, the insane lost, the perverts in bushes, the eyeball hungry, those spectres of death, the angry god, the vanity fair, unstopped desire, unthumbed dam, bacchanalian hordes, remembered touch, unhoused spirit, brilliant nothing, moment submerged, complete, underwater, grown dim, in the green before now, with too much silence when I am off guard, trying to sleep off my vote, my proof, my right, the voice of my rippling skin.

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8 Responses to Food grows all over this city. (In three parts.)

  1. prarie says:

    Brilliant. As always.

  2. Le Clown says:

    I finally fixed my Reader. I am sorry for being absent this long. But I am happy to have stumbled back on your blog with this post.
    Le Clown

  3. Guy says:

    Not once have I got a single ripe nut off of my abundant hazelnut tree in the ten or so years I’ve lived at my current house. Not once. The f***ing squirrels have eaten every one of them while they’re still soft and green. If you need some empty hazenut shells, just ask. Oh, and the deer ate everything that I planted this year. And the raccoons shit everywhere. It’s a perfectly balanced ecosystem spinning about the hot sun of my rage.

  4. nightwork says:

    I can’t match or compare to your tone or style in this, but the encounter my dog and I just had with the local raccoons relates to this sense of wildness. He is a big siberian husky mix, a little on the wild or even feral side, with a strong prey drive, and he views raccoons as his mortal enemies, usually pseudo-competition in a quest for food he won’t touch. But he is also my brother, friend, guardian of my child.

    The raccoons conduct night raids for the rotting plums adjacent to us and just beyond our fence, and he (who, as mostly a carnivore) would not touch such food, sees this as an intrusion that requires violence. We had a conflict tonight where I had to resort to knocking back the raccoons with a long stick. There is no winner if this, or any such interaction with the both of us happens; we’ve had such scrums before that lead to bilateral damage without any sense of resolution. My dog’s territoriality is recognizable and even understandable and like mine, as much as I hate to admit it. Not the same as a passing squirrel or rat, but intensely territorial. Through him (and I want none of those plums, especially at this point, either), I feel my own sense of intrusion on territory. We deal with these raccoon violators together, run them off, when possible. My reasoning is that he is my friend, and I have to back him up, but there’s more than that, especially with raccoons. Despite the obvious and logical problems raccoons might bring to me, and the simple justifications therein, I can’t help but think on what this ongoing battle say about me and my own sense of territory.

    Hope to see you back here soon.

    • owl says:

      Thank you so much for this response, nightwork. It moves me to realise that others are challenging and putting pressure on understanding experiences like the one you describe. I’m finding this hard to explain, but what you wrote means a lot to me. There is so much going on in the space between the edges of things: your relationship with your dog alone is already this totally complex set of situations where you both respond and shift and cultivate each other’s lives, with instinct and emotion and loyalty and pleasure and vitality. And then there are the raccoons and your family and all the dynamics of living with the wild, or urban wild, or ungoverned nonhuman other, or however you want to call it, and none of the names really fit when you start to do that process of mind. It seems to me that the confrontation of the experience is even more productive than the confrontation of the other. Even without identifying the actual questions, just making yourself, or myself, available to the question engages wildness in a way that is creative instead of destructive.

      Go and bewilder the automaton.

      And thank you for bringing my attention back here. I really appreciate that too.


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