I was picking up dog poop when I found the hickory nut. Not a shell with a hole in one side, the nut already eaten, not the fragments of a shell. But a hard, shiny, brown intact nut sitting on the ice under the maple tree behind my studio.
I know it wasn’t really mine. That it probably belonged to the squirrel who Bud chases as it hops from treetop to treetop. In the past, I’ve seen that squirrel’s tracks going from the big maple through the barnyard to the back pasture and into the woods.
That’s where the Hickory trees are. Maybe, on this windy day, it was blown from the squirrel’s winter stash high in the maple.
Or maybe it wasn’t the squirrel who brought it all the way back from the woods, stuffed inside her cheek. Maybe it was a raven or crow flying over the farm who dropped the nut hoping it would crack open on the hard ground.
But I didn’t think about whose nut it was when I picked it up and brought it into the house. I only thought that now it was mine and I was eager to taste it.
I cracked the nut open with a nutcracker and was delighted to see the pieces of meat inside, not brown and rotten but the color of healthy teeth. The small pieces of nut were packed tightly inside the shell. I wished I had one of those picks that my mother used to put in the bowl with the nutcracker and I always wondered what it was for.
I used the pointed tip of a knife and started prying the nut out of the shell. It came out in tiny broken pieces and I placed the biggest one in my mouth.
The hickory nut was full of flavor, like a fresh egg compared to one from the store. A touch of pecan, but not bitter. It was moist and meaty. And then, a hint of fresh coconut in texture and taste, as if my teeth were squeezing milk from the nut.
Unlike the shelled walnuts I buy in bulk at the Co-op and eat with hardly a thought, I had to work to get the tiny pieces of hickory and that made me savor it. I pushed all the smallest pieces together with my fingertip and pressed them between the roof of my mouth and tongue, tasting them with my whole mouth before swallowing them.
I meant to save some for Jon, but I had selfishly eaten most of the nut before he came into the kitchen.
At first, I had thought of the nut as a gift, but after eating it and tasting how delicious it was, I felt more like I had stolen it.
But I’ve never seen the squirrel at our bird feeder, not even on the ground scavenging the seeds that fall. This makes me think that she has plenty of better things to eat which she harvests from the nearby woods.
So even if I did steal the hickory, I didn’t feel as bad about it. Still, maybe I’ll leave a few walnuts on the fence post by the maple tree as an offering. If the squirrel doesn’t eat them the birds surely will.