Gathering Day

I came home one day with the intention of collecting the acorns from beneath the pin oaks. As soon as i was out there with my bucket i realized the female cedar trees had berries on them. I had paid a hefty sum of money at one point to buy cedar berries for my natural medicine cabinet. I now wondered why i’d done that. Probably because i would have been concerned there might have been a law against harvesting the berries from trees on public property. However, at this point, i owned several cedar trees that were producing berries. It seemed like i should harvest and freeze some of these berries in case i needed them for medicinal purposes later.

I crumpled the berries off the branches between my fingers with the bucket placed beneath to catch them. When i had collected all i wanted i placed them into my cardboard fruit box from the kitchen and set them on the porch to let the critters crawl out. There were centipedes, ants, and little white spiders in amongst the berries. Most of them left on their own. There were a few stragglers that i had to pick out manually. Then i poured the berries into a ziploc bag and into the freezer they went.

The pin oak acorns were all very pretty. I listened to an audio book about homesteading in the 1970s on the phone in my apron pocket as i worked. The sound traveled all over our flat land and the dogs listened too. The girl narrating was talking about the addition of her little sister to the family, a new play mate to enjoy the homestead with; Heidi, named after a movie their parents enjoyed. my thoughts drifted to my own childhood. It hadn’t been a peaceful one but there were good memories here and there if i wanted to pick at them. My sister and i coveted a small collection of troll dolls the way most children in our time had worshipped barbies. The troll dolls seemed somehow more humble and approachable. They had little hand-made clothes passed down from other generations of my mother’s family. The men had vests with arm holes and a button in the back. My favorite two troll dolls, probably the oldest, had soft rabbit hair. Their plastic skin was darkened and smudged from years of play and we make-believed that it was dirt from a long travel or hard work. My favorite male troll doll had a little felt jumpsuit with a black belt and a snap in the middle. The hat was glued to his soft blue rabbit hair. My favorite female troll doll had blonde rabbit hair with black tips. Her face was shiny and she appeared to be smiling. She had a dress. I don’t remember which color or of what material, but it had an equally delicate and curious snapping device in the back like the jumpsuit. For some of the trolls, mostly the tiny ones that we considered children, my little sister the artist would fashion garments of various styles out of green flower tape. My sister and i would create these “tree-house” towers for them, building elaborate cities out of boxes and pulley-system fruit-basket elevators on various household furniture, make-believing they were in the middle of a forest or fleeing persecution at the hands of other species that would have them wiped out because they felt they were inferior. Always, it was the same narrative. Two trolls found each other, fell madly in love, had children, then had to flee, were trying to keep the children alive and keep from being separated or killed, hiding from soldiers of the species that sought to kill them, and then foraging for food. In each tree top fortress we would create a storage cellar for food stuffs. We had this cute little “bunny house” back then. It had come with several hollow plastic chests that opened and closed. You could store things in them easily. We borrowed all the plastic chests from the bunny village and gave them to the trolls. We would then go out in the yard and collect things in our dresses to drag upstairs and fill the plastic chests with. We dug up so many wild onions. I still remember the smell of those wild onions soaked into the skin of my fingers. We would save one of the best looking onion flowers for a little wooden vase to brighten the troll dolls tree-top village. Then we would pull all the tops off the wild onions and dust the dirt off of them. We also collected snail shells. They were empty, but we make-believed they were alive and that they were the troll dolls main source of protein. We collected cedar berries. We dreamt the mama troll would make pies and then can the ones that weren’t eaten immediately. We also collected live oak acorns. We would pull the little tops off and the brown sun-baked acorns kind of looked like loaves of bread. We would gather all day in the summer and then curl our filthy dresses around our bounty and haul it all upstairs to fill the plastic chests in our treetop village. We would sigh in relief. Phew! The troll dolls had enough food to last them through the winter. It was a curious memory. As a child i had longed to be an adult so i could be in charge of myself and not at the mercy of others, but as an adult i longed to be a child one more day so that i could experience the kind of all-consuming importance of gathering wild onions where it seemed life did not exist outside of that moment.

I left Sili to guard the acorn bucket while i busied myself hunting the fallen leaves for more acorns with caps intact. It was necessary as Cashew liked to eat acorns and so she followed me everywhere trying to knock my bounty from my hands or get the ones from the ground before i saw them. she was so focused on me and what i was doing, she totally missed the fact that the bulk of the acorns were in the care of her older sister over there.

I should have popped them straight into the oven, baked them to kill the critters, then let them cool and sprayed them to seal against mold. I should have done a lot of things that month. Instead, i put them in the freezer and cast them aside for a day when less was going on in my stormy mind. Inside the refrigerator sat cedar tips that were meant for tea to cure cedar allergies and avocado seeds meant to be boiled into a syrup to add to my shampoo to make one’s hair shiny. They were all good ideas…they just might have to wait until next year.

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