It took me a minute to process the sounds. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plink.
The sun was gaining traction as it climbed through the clear, blue sky of mid-morning. As I stepped from the warm sunshine of the field road into the cooler shade of the woodlot canopy, I’d heard the first subdued “plops.”
Overhead, a noisy flock of blackbirds was flitting and skittering among the high hardwood branches, some of them already dotted with yellowing shades of the season. Another “plop” sounded, from off to the side in the trees. Several yards ahead, a squirrel scampered across the road, aggravated no doubt at being disrupted on his morning rounds by an uninvited woodlot visitor.
Then came a much closer, louder “plop” and a plump black walnut, still wrapped in its chartreuse-green husk, landed on the dirt path only a few feet away, then rolled off to the side, joining a scattering of other falls.
The source of the plopping sounds was obvious: fat, black walnuts were dropping all over. Another “plop” sounded toward the little creek, and then a “plink” rang out, when one of the plentiful nuts plummeted onto a piece of equipment parked at the edge of the trees.
The black walnuts and hickory nuts that grow in companionship among the woodlot appear to be abundant this season, a natural harvest that is considered a classic sign of a long, cold winter. When the nuts are plentiful, Mother Nature is providing a wealth of foodstuffs for her critters who collect and stash them against the harsh, bleak days of winter.
No doubt that’s what the squirrel had been up to when I messed up his morning and sent him scrambling up a nearby tree. It didn’t appear the squirrel would have to go far to gather more. Walnuts littered the field road through the woods, posing a walking hazard to those of us who travel upright on two legs, rather than run about on four.
In fact, the woodlot harvest was a hazard, both underfoot and overhead. I opted to keep moving and not stick around under those walnut trees for long. One of those fat, unshucked walnuts plopping down on one’s head would definitely hurt. While the abundant hickory nuts are smaller, they can cause a turned ankle if you step on them the wrong way.
A sign stating “Danger: Hard Hat Area” might be in order where the road enters the woods.
The woodlot was hosting more birds that morning than I’d seen there in many weeks — the flock of blackbirds flittering around, a mockingbird, cardinals, an assortment of field and meadow sparrows. A perky Carolina wren hopped its way up and around the trunk of a small sapling, then perched on the end of a twig and gave me “the eye,” like I had no business in bird turf.
An assortment of bird goodies was apparently ripe and ready among the meadow, fencerows and woodlot, such as poke berries and thistle heads, weed seeds, plenty of crickets and oversized grasshoppers. A small planting of sunflowers in the meadow, their brown and ripened heads hanging upside down, adds more variety to the bird buffet. Even the guineas go sneaking through the sunflower patch on a regular basis.
Come to think of it, with all those birds dashing about through the trees, a hard hat might be a good preventive measure against another version of “plops” from overhead. But, falling walnuts and potential bird “fallout” aren’t the only harvest hazards we’ve encountered.
“We have a combine problem,” announced The Farmer one day last week, after getting a phone call from grandson Caleb. My heart sank — combine problems get expensive.
“There’s a deer stuck in the combine header,” he continued.
A deer? In the combine head? What? How?
Apparently the six-point buck that was jammed in the gathering chains of the combine had been hit and injured some time before. Caleb had earlier noticed a deer limping; it must have been hiding in the corn rows until the field was being finished and then couldn’t get away from the machine in time. It took some prying with a couple of two-by-four boards to get the carcass out. The combine wasn’t damaged; sadly, the deer didn’t fare as well. But, at least it didn’t go off into a fencerow and die a lingering death from an injury.
While not physically dangerous, it’s well-documented that the abundant numbers of deer pose a hazard to various crops due to their voracious appetites for the likes of hayfields, corn silks and tender soybean plants. Having one stuck in a piece of farm equipment puts a whole new twist on the term “deer damage.”
And it adds a new chapter to the harvest hazards we’ve experienced over the years.