What if it were you? If you were the one who went to a friend's house on a rainy Saturday, and answered the call to gather walnuts from her over-exuberant tree? If you brought your son, in his red rubber boots, and spent the afternoon tromping through the mud, sipping cocoa, and filling a bright blue plastic bucket...
In the midst of this frenzied season, with its baking and its cooking and its buying and its wrapping, with the hustle and the bustle and the traffic and the stress, we opted out. We just breathed the air, enjoyed the silence, and gathered fallen walnuts from the cool, damp earth.
When we got home, we peeled off our dirt-caked boots, hung up our jackets, and sat by the fire. I think we played Bananagrams.
But then I got to work: scrubbing the shells of their mud, laying them flat on rimmed baking sheets, and drying them out for several hours in a low oven, according to my friend's instructions. This way, they won't mold or rot, and will last for months and months.
And now I have the most enormous haul of in-shell walnuts on my dining room table, and I feel like a squirrel, for I know they will last me throughout the winter.
And so I consider my options: pesto, biscotti, bars, toffee, chocolate bark; spicing them up; grinding them into flour; folding them into scones, quick breads, and cakes. The possibilities ricochet.
And I realize, it doesn't matter what I do with them. It doesn't matter. For I got an afternoon, in the mud and the rain, with my son, and soon, those red boots of his won't fit him any longer.