A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast and the conversation touched on the change of seasons and the way each is marked by the things we associate with them. Winter snow. Spring daffodils. Summer tans. Autumn leaves. While colorful leaves are the quintessential poster children of fall, it is the acorn that marks the arrival of autumn. Something about that little brown oak seed with the tan beret takes me to another season of my life, the one marked by the frenzy of small children.
When my girls were small, keeping them occupied was challenging. Never one to plop them in front of the TV for hours, I looked to the outdoors for entertainment. That’s not to say I wasn’t grateful for the respite that a Disney movie offered from time to time. We played in the rain, built snowmen with poofy hydrangea flower hairdos, collected autumn leaves for art projects, and drowned Japanese beetles in soapy water. At the heart of these moments was togetherness.
I’m not sure why I decided to take the girls acorn foraging. I think it was one of those moments every exhausted mom has when they mutter to themselves, “What the hell do I do with them NOW?” And then I remembered the row of oak trees planted along the entrance to the playground in our neighborhood. It was November, the day cold and grey. The oaks were the only trees in the neighborhood whose leaves still clung to their branches. I think that’s why I remembered them and walked with my girls, then three and four, to see what we could find.
The girls crouched the way little children do, their bums nearly touching the ground, as they gathered acorns, some whole, some missing caps, some caps missing seeds. We moved from tree to tree, filling our bags. At the time, I didn’t know what I would do with three bags of acorns.
Every year since, we’ve gathered acorns. Not as many as we did that first year, but enough to call it a tradition. Some fill jars and cloches around the house to be used as decoration on tables or shelves. Others find their way to the Thanksgiving table where they adorn a simple centerpiece. The first year we did it, we all learned about the dark side of acorns. Some have a secret.
The girls scattered their acorns around the table the night before Thanksgiving. When we woke the next morning, tiny white maggots, or so we thought, were wiggling around the table and many of the acorns had small holes bored into their sides. A little sleuthing revealed they were acorn weevils, gross but completely harmless.
As the girls get older, their acorn gathering days have become a distant memory, for me it’s like yesterday and still so tangible. My oldest is in her first year of college three hours east, my youngest is about to sign a lacrosse scholarship at a school two hours west and I’m in the middle, literally, stuck between wanting to hold onto their childhoods and knowing it’s time to let go, like the oak releases her acorns.
A few weeks ago, on another grey November day, my youngest and I went to the park to gather acorns. Her heart wasn’t in it and I knew it. She was doing it for me. This time we collected only caps. She didn’t ask why. When we got home, she set the bag on the counter and headed up to her room. I heard her laughing and her friends voice coming through the speaker phone.
For the rest of the day and into the evening, I hot glued hundreds of caps to a burlap-wrapped wreath. When I was finished, I hung my creation on the front door. In a way, the wreath marks the bittersweet passage of time and a season of slow, simple moments beneath the limbs of oak trees, collecting acorns with my precious girls.