The foliage and the beech nuts on the trees bordering our garden are burgeoning, with husks and seeds falling in their thousands onto the earth beneath. What’s the point? Procreation?
Surely, a couple of hundred seeds should be enough to allow for the serendipitous arrival of one seed on a compatible piece of ground where it could grow into a tree? Nature is generous or even extravagant.
Other might say that the web of nature is all-purposeful. The million seeds on a single tree are not created solely for procreation but, also, for food. It’s the same with haws on the bush, with blackberries on the briars. Millions!
While one strategic fruit would be enough to guarantee the recreation of the parent, and the ongoing survival of the species, the plant has also the duty to feed --to supply, in part, the staff of life for all life that lives within its compass.
Nature, we say, is bountiful.
From the seeds of a single tree overhanging our yard, we could grow a forest. Not that we need even one more tree.
Instead, we should start a beechnut mill, harvest the million burrs, the husks, by the bushel. Shaped like small, hairy lemons, they festoon and weigh down the branches. As August advances, they start to split and as September comes in, the ‘wings’ of the husks throw themselves open, as shamelessly exposing the fruits as nudists on a beach baring themselves to the sun.
Some seeds, like some nudists, are fatter than others but, in the case of the beeches, this is detectable only to the discerning eye. To crunch the seed pods, shining like polished leather, between the front teeth may deliver a morsel of sustenance to the hungry or the curious wayfarer.
Inside this inedible and ejected carapace, one may find a three-sided edible kernel, half peanut size, tannin-flavoured and mildly tasty.
To eat too many is a mistake because they cause digestive discomfort, but this is avoided by soaking them overnight so that the astringent skin, which is responsible, slides off.
The nutrition value must be small, and only in hard times would be worth the effort. Foragers and back- to-the-earthers cherish them and, perhaps, put a value on the act of harvesting wild food.
There may, as with beech-mast harvesting, be payback beyond the protein and the fat.
Speaking of the berries on blackberry bushes (which, as colleagues have remarked, are poor and damaged this year) I find that picking them as one ambles along a bohereen, container in hand and stopping at every bush, is good for the soul. It is restful.
Blackberry-picking also led me, recently, to notice the miracle of my hand, which I have had attached to me for many years now, but have never really paid attention to before.
The agility of the wrist, the dexterity of the hand itself, how one can worm it between briars and nettles to strip the prize — six unwormed berries on a single stem — and load them with the fingers into the cup of the hand and draw the hand back unscathed, unstung (the red on the finger tip isn’t blood but berry juice, a foretaste of the lushness of the bounty) is surely a testament to the precision of evolutionary engineering.
Of course, the balancing displacement of our toes is, too. And the fact that our necks can swivel our heads through 80 to 90 degrees. Such belated realisations is a savoured fruit of blackberrying or beech-mast harvesting reflections, at least as rewarding as the fat or protein also earned.
One lives and learns. I was intrigued by skeins of purple seaweed washed up on a local storm beach and pasted on the wet sand; there’s very little weed of other species. Taking some home, I decided, with the help of Ireland’s Seashore (Collins Press: Lucy Taylor /Emma Nickelsen) and a magnifying glass, that it was probably a species of ceramium, which is ‘cosmopolitan’ and listed as present in Cork, Kerry and elsewhere.
If you're heading to the coast in the next few days during this spell of lovely weather don't forget to first pick up a copy of Ireland's Seashore – A Field Guide, the ideal companion on any seashore ramble! @LucButtons https://t.co/5yyiRbknDq pic.twitter.com/ZARX9XqZz8— The Collins Press (@CollinsPress) June 26, 2018
The thread-thin interwoven strands had scraps of bright green sea lettuce caught up in them. The result was a work of art created by wind and sea.
Of course, in West Cork, all around them was art, the headlands, the sea winking in the sun, the fine figures on the beach, the white terns flashing by and screaming as they dived out of the blue sky into the blue water. Blue and white, the colours of summer.
I saw that up to a dozen people out of the 40or so on the beach were in the water. I must bring towel and Speedos next time I go for a walk!