Two weeks ago we ran out of acorns to feed Emma and Ronnie deer. FD and I had been picking acorns since September. The first acorns were picked from oaks on our own property, but grass growing beneath the trees made it almost impossible to search around on the ground for fallen acorns. Picking them from higher up in the trees had meant me climbing on top of the buggy in order to reach them. When we ran out of nuts from our own trees, a co-worker from FD’s work let us pick from oak trees on his property. And again, the tall grasses left us picking from high up in the trees, and it was getting more difficult to find acorns still in the cupule’s or little caps. Most acorns had dropped to the ground by October. When that supply of acorns ran out, a man in town who had heard of our plight offered to bring us acorns raked up from his front yard. But we quickly found Emma and Ronnie were not much interested in those nuts. I wondered if the good ones had been culled out by squirrels, and the discards left to rot. I had read that, unless one was out early competing with squirrels for nuts, what was left on the ground was probably wormy. Of course there could have been other reasons, and maybe the deer sensed something amiss. So instead of good eats, Emma and Ronnie had piles of discards in their pen that I eventually raked up and hauled off to the woods.
And it wasn’t simply a matter of picking acorns all of this time. It did not take too long to realize that once picked, the acorns needed to be spread out to dry or they would mold in the buckets. I had no intention of letting my hard-sought acorns spoil. I had three drying trays to hold about five gallons of acorns which was perfect as there was plenty of room on the front and back porches for drying. Unfortunately, I had not considered that Buddy and Punkin, the orphaned squirrels we had raised, and all of their neighborhood friends would steal them from the porches. So, we shoved the dining table and chairs against the wall, allowing floor room in the dining area to spread out the acorn cache in the drying trays, and got an oscillating fan going. I was feeling pretty good about this setup, until a couple of days later I began finding white grub-type larvae crawling all over the floors, and our little dog Bear was eating them! I researched these maggot-like larvae and found them to be acorn weevils. They are harmless, but I did not want them wiggling into my carpets or being squished all over the tile, and though I am sure they were a wonderful source of protein, I did not like the idea of Bear eating them. The only place remaining to put the acorns was out in the storage building, which would not be as handy as having them at the house. But it was a good decision – I was aghast the next morning when I opened the storage building. Hundreds of white larvae were crawling from the trays. Now I wondered how many probably did get into the rugs and carpeting in the house before we moved the trays!
So after a dry spell with no acorns for Emma and Ronnie, I was quite elated last week when FD asked if I wanted to pick acorns on a friend’s property just a few miles out of town. He informed me we could visit this place over the autumn and winter months to gather acorns as we needed them. And best of all, the ground beneath was dirt covered by fallen leaves. It would be easy to brush leaves around and harvest the acorns laying scattered about. I laughed to myself as I crawled around on my hands and knees that afternoon, picking up acorns that had fallen to the ground. I felt a bit like Sam Gribley, in “My Side of the Mountain” by Jean Craighead George. Sam was a young boy who ran away from home to the Catskill Mountains, to live off of the land, make a home, and survive by wits and research from books. In gathering food for winter, Sam picked acorns to grind into flour for making acorn pancakes and for thickening hearty stews. With FD and I following a somewhat Paleo lifestyle, the idea of using acorn nut flour appealed to me but I had long ago researched the process of transforming acorns into flour, and the work involved did not interest me in the least. Of course in the book the author does not bother to go into detail about the tedious process. I found myself wondering if Sam Gribley would seriously have gone to so much trouble for a wee bit of flour?
I will be crawling around on the ground harvesting acorns for another seven weeks until we release Emma and Ronnie into the wild. Soon there will be no elm branches to cut or cat brier to harvest. The tender grasses and woodland plants will be dying back as the colder temperatures set in. I have been happy to do my part as a deer mother to provide the nutrition a deer mother in the wild would lead her offspring to – the plants and browse I observed Daisy deer eating and leading her babies to nibble. But I wonder if in the weeks and months down the road I will miss my days foraging and gathering plants and browse? Will I yearn to sit under the great oak trees gathering acorns? Could I ever grow curious enough to discover why the deer find those crunchy nuts so irresistible? Just maybe I will take the time someday to pick a bucket of acorns and go through the process to grind a bit of acorn flour and make some of Sam Gribley’s acorn pancakes.
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