Living under the abundant acorns and old limbs of oak trees is terrifying and exciting – like living next to Vesuvius.
Henny Penny has been much on my mind lately. No, it's not the stock market or falling home prices. Nothing so metaphorical has drawn me back to that anxious chicken in Joseph Jacobs's classic fairy tale. It's the acorns. My sky is falling.
I live in Bethesda, Md., on a ridiculously tiny piece of suburban land. But my neighbors and I are blessed with many 100-year-old oak trees, slender giants that reach up more than 120 feet. They dwarf our houses and remind us that we're living in what used to be one of America's richest forests. The responsible men in the neighborhood, the ones who'll bore you about the importance of power-blasting your vinyl siding every year, grumble about the danger of our trees. "One of these days," they warn with a hint of disgust, "a storm will come along and blow these oaks down on somebody's house." It's terrifying and a little exciting, like living next to Vesuvius, but without having to wear a tunic.
The oak trees toy with us every fall. But once every four to seven years – no one's discovered a reliable pattern – we get what's called a "mast year," a superabundance of nuts. The acorns fall by the thousands, covering the patio and sidewalk with brown marbles and sending the squirrels into fits of hoarding. On cool nights with the windows open, we can hear the acorns dropping on cars – ping! ping! ping! – little acts of arboreal vandalism, mostly harmless, but a warning nonetheless: "Look out below!" With a mild wind, the ammunition rains down on the skylight in our bathroom like dry hail.