Every fall when I rake the yard, I get distracted by the detritus among the leaves. Across the street there’s a giant horse chestnut tree that produces interesting brown nuts that roll when you try to rake them. The squirrels vie for them, and often I find one in the street.
The nuts are about an inch in diameter, chestnut brown (of course) and have a tan spot like an eye on the top, hence the ‘horse’ aspect. The husk is similarly dark, but has light-colored spines. When they split open, the inside is nearly white.
Our green ash trees are heavily laden with their seeds this year and they create a thick layer over the ground beneath the trees. Since the seeds are small and thin, they are a problem to rake and pick up. The snow shovel seems to scoop them up better than the rake.
Of course, there are the requisite varieties of oak contributing both large and small acorns with their jaunty tam o’shanter-type caps. I can’t resist picking up the few that the squirrels miss in the lawn, even though they are relatively plain and common.
While in California I was intrigued by the seeds that Eucalyptus trees dropped. They are about an inch wide, conical and have a distinctive flat side with four holes. Once, a potter friend asked me to bring some back to Colorado for her to use to press patterns into her pottery. I’ve since run across some different seeds that are nearly identical to Eucalyptus, but a quarter of the size, with only three holes.
The sidewalk and cars in our neighborhood are splattered with purple from the birds who eat the berries on the front bushes and the Virginia creeper on the side. Luckily, the patio is nearly covered with leaves and green ash seeds and so it doesn’t get too stained.
The huge Trumpet Vine that adorns the front of our house grows six- to eight-inch pods that fall when green into the rain gutters. However, when they dry, they split open forming two canoe-shaped vessels full of soft feathery seeds that disperse with the slightest breeze.
I even like and tolerate dandelions. They form a yellow mat across the yard in spring and summer, followed by the delicate white ‘poofs’ that entertain children and adults (who aren’t hung up on perfect lawns).
I have enjoyed observing the fuzzy spiral whirlygig seeds on a bush in the mountains, and am always captivated by the Dr. Seuss-like growths on Old Man’s Beard vines.
Indeed, I know that I am intrigued by the seeds and nuts from all these plants as it brings home the sheer diversity of vegetation in our lives and the promise of the future. I can appreciate different leaves and plant shapes, but for me, the seeds and nuts represent something more tangible that really expresses their differences. For the most part, we see without distinction the bottom bit of a deciduous tree trunk, and maybe the mass of a green shade up above. In the spring we may enjoy the temporary flowering of the trees and shrubs, and in the fall we can delight in the various colored leaves.
But when we see the seeds and nuts, we can truly see that each plant is its own thing, different from most everything else around it. In fact, it is that very diversity of the plant community that provides its strength and endurance.
You would think that our observation of the strength and necessity of diversity in the natural world could help us understand that the human world requires that same diversity. I suppose it is a sign of diversity when a large part of the human family cannot accept others that are different.
Certainly, nature is a competitive environment, and there are plenty of situations among humans where competing interests create conflict. But that is different from merely other-based antagonism.
We talk about the difference between man and animals as our ability to think ahead and plan our actions – to act rationally for our own self-interest. We claim that that’s what makes us human.
So, why in the face of overwhelming evidence that diversity is a positive influence do we persist in racism and bigotry? Some claim it to be regression into animal-like behavior, essentially returning to our caveman roots. Another view is that we are uncomfortable, or fear, that which is other or strange. “Birds of a feather,” may be true, but I don’t see geese attacking ducks and cranes or other waterfowl.
It may be that some of us are just too short-sighted to see the long-term effects of their biases and actions. Humans can certainly be short-sighted, but most often we choose wise leaders that can help us understand what we can make of our future.
History has shown us plenty of times when we chose our leaders poorly, and the effects of those decisions. At other times, we have striven to improve our lot, and overall, the improvements have surpassed the darker times.
History may continue to repeat itself, but maybe each step backwards gives us greater incentive to move two steps forward. The seeds are out there, and some will grow and thrive, making something that will endure into the future.