Judge is stretched out on his bed by the fire. Annie would dispute this sentence as she considers it her bed. Annie disputes ownership by simply occupying the space. She, cat lawyer that she is, understands that possession is nine tenths of the law. She, of course, disputes my chair as well. Annie, however, with her slinky courtroom manners, is outside prowling. Perhaps she is asserting ownership of the barn. Or the front porch. Or the driveway. Perhaps a bush has sheltered the ground from that abhorrent stuff, the white stuff that gets between your foot pads, that we have dumped all over on the ground. Annie is indiscriminate in attributing blame. Annie, is outside, however, and Judge dozes, fed and happy, on his bed by the fire. I too happily sit on my chair.
The fire is pyrotechnicing as is proper, in the fireplace. The municipal fire cleaning public works crew — that would be me — cleaned out most of the ashes into the ash bucket we keep close by. Lots of ashes. For we are, I hope, burning the last of the walnut, hard to start, slow to burn, hard to burn up, abundant with ashes. The embers still gleamed red as the ashes fell away. I looked at them, and thought about wind, and houses, and flames, and carried them down the outside stairs away from the house and into the white stuff Annie complains about. The fire lighting public works crew — that would be me — laid the fire and lit it and it went out and I laid another bit of fat wood and used the bellows and the embers glowed and sure enough ignited the fat wood. So, mayor for the day in my kitchen, I watch the fire in its proper place, burning the last of the walnut.
The first name of this village of Forestville was Walnut Falls, there being a lot of walnut trees and a quite respectable falls, I guess. I wasn’t there when the village was named in the early 1800s, contrary to what some grandchildren might think. The falls gave the village a reason for being, powering a mill or two and a some factories, little ones, for making ladders. The railroad came around and suddenly markets opened up and so a couple of canning factories. The area boomed with the markets a train trip away along the Atlantic Seaboard, New York and Philadelphia and Boston. Boom times in the 1870’s. Maybe they persisted a few years longer. By the early 1900’s, though, richer soil and longer growing seasons hollowed out the business.
Other villages found their niche. Forestville just slept through the years, shrinking a little here, a little there. And so today, we find ourselves full of old houses that have been here a hundred or fifty years ago. No reason to tear them down, and so they stand. Older every day.
Walnut Falls sounds so romantic. Walnut groves, walnut trees. Walnut wood. Walnuts. Walnut wood furniture, the rich red graining, gleaming in firelight. The fact is, walnuts are not romantic. They wait till all the other trees have leafed to put out their own. “Thought I was dead, did you,” mutter the trees as they finally spring their leaves on us. And then they send out juglone, a chemical which can kill asparagus, Cabbage, Eggplant, Peppers, Potatoes, Rhubarb, Tomatoes, Flowering tobacco, Petunia, Baptisia, buttercup, Narcissus, Chrysanthemums, Columbine , Hydrangea species, Lilies, and Peonies, according to the website ‘Sprouts.’ I just now learned that. Is this the reason my rhubarb won’t grow?
I throw another walnut log on the fire. Poor rhubarb. I move to the sunroom to escape the heat. I can look out the glass ceiling and see the walnut trees, empty of leaves, of course, and their nuts too. All fall the trees have hurtled their nuts at the glass, like mischievous kids. One sits and reads and then, crash of walnut, one jumps out of one’s chair. Repeated till every last walnut is on the ground.
Walking on walnuts is like walking on baseballs. Treacherous. A misstep sends the unwary flailing arms into an ungraceful dance with gravity. Were these particular qualities in walnuts what determined the early settlers to change the name to Forestville? Or maybe they cut down the walnuts and so the name no longer made sense. Well, the walnuts are back, and are taking their revenge on the village that stripped them of their naming rights. Walnut boards, walnut bowls, walnut tables, walnut molding is perhaps our revenge on the walnuts.
Crabby trees. Crabby cat. I am the code enforcement officer for our kitchen. I ticket Annie and explain to her that no cats are allowed on the counter. She jumps on the table. I ticket her again. She growls and hisses and I warn her that I am an officer of the kitchen law and she must comply with zoning codes or rack up big fines. “Fine me,” she growls. “I don’t have any money.”
“I’ll fine you,” she says, “for littering the ground with snow.” I protest that the snow is not my fault. She doesn’t believe it for a second. Clearly she has decided that as long as I keep littering the ground with snow she will keep climbing on the table and counters. The life of the kitchen zoning officer is thankless. All responsibility. No authority.
Fortunately the kitchen code enforcement officer is allowed a coffee break. Annie is still outside. I can take a rest from my code patrols. The walnut trees are motionless in the early morning quiet. The fire is burning as hot as it can from the walnut. Oh, did I mention the tarry residue on the fireplace glass that burnt walnut leaves? Juglone I bet, in burnt syrup form. I sigh, and think this really is the last of the walnut. And Annie will learn to stay off the table and counters. And Forestville will grow in a peaceful prosperous way.