Every year I happily, and rather naively, plot out my plan for hazelnut foraging in the neighborhood: which park trees look hopeful, which neighbors have fruitful hazelnut trees in their yards and might be persuaded to let me harvest a few. My aspirations are simple, and mainly even symbolic. I don’t need heaps of hazelnuts, just a couple to toast and nibble, and maybe a handful crushed then whipped with cream and a bit of rum to top a fresh pumpkin pie.
But every year, just before the the nuts are ready for human foraging, I check the trees and find that the birds and squirrels, who are happy to forage their nuts a little greener, have eaten them. Every last one. The sidewalks and paths are littered with empty half-shells.
Steller’s Jays and crows, with their strong bills, crack most of them, but I love to watch the tiny-billed birds, such as juncos and chickadees, pick through the leavings of the larger birds and squirrels, finding bits of nut left around the edges for their more diminutive feasts.
I find myself gathering up small handfuls of the shells to arrange on our nature table at home. They always call to my mind the 14th century mystic, Blessed Julian of Norwich, who I love–a solitary contemplative, and a deeply original thinker. She was the first woman known to publish a book in the English language, and is typically depicted with a cat. Julian had a vision in which she saw the entire earth in her palm, appearing to her as a hazelnut–a vision she interpreted to mean that there is nothing too small or insignificant to be considered beautiful, meaningful, and full of earthen grace. This expansive interpretation of the hazelnut led to her famous and wonderful proclamation that All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner thing shall be well.
And it shall. Because I am more than happy to support the nice folks at our local farmer’s market who are smart enough to cover their hazelnut trees with bird-proofing nets, and will be showing up with basketfuls later this autumn, right about the time my pumpkins are ripe. And meanwhile, the blackberry bushes are covered with more than enough free food for the birds, and my pies (and ice cream, and jam…).