When I first contemplated the bounty of compost now accumulating on the lawn, I was thrilled. No more raiding neighboring yards for debris to add to my plastic rotating device that gobbled up the table scraps. But like Mickey in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I stood dumbstruck and yes, even somewhat panicked, at the sheer amount of leaf fall which was now raining down.
And to add to my consternation, my friend Barbara wrote to me after my post on the God of the Wind – “If you compost those walnut leaves in your yard, what happens to the growth inhibiting properties that walnuts are supposed to have?” Uh Oh!
Barbara is someone you can trust. She’s my go-to person on native California plants and knows more about birds than I, so I immediately did my homework and discovered that, yes, the toxicity which is a substance known as juglone (5-hydroxy-alphanapthaquinone) is so destructive to many plants that anything which might be affected can not be grown within 80 feet of the trunk of the black walnut (Juglans nigraL)! The best online source seemed to be the Ohio State University Fact Sheet and although they listed a number of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials which DO peacefully co-exist with the walnut, there were at least 50 DO NOTS, lilacs and silver maple (calculated at 22 feet, 8 inches distance in my yard) among them. The good news is that the maple and the lilacs have been there a long time and not succumbed yet.
The bad news is that I was just on my way to Home Depot to buy poultry wire to make some great big composter piles and now I wonder if I dare to bother given the threat of spreading the dreaded juglone onto the roses and the tomatoes at a later date. Turns out the concensus is not completely clear on this point, various sites putting the black walnut droppings into throes of gardening hell category, and some (like Ohio) insisting that 2 to 4 weeks of composting will possibly degrade the toxins and 6 months should definitely do the trick. And if you’re wary, a good and simple test is simply to plant a tomato seedling in the compost, sit back, and wait for either the angel of mercy or the harbinger of death. That will most definitely tell the tale.
But there’s another consequence of the mini-copse of black walnuts in the north east corner of the backyard, for it’s fall debris is raining leaves and hard green nut casings smack in the range of the croquet court. And our excellently written book “Croquet – the Complete Guide to History, Strategy, Rules and Records” only mentions that the game is played upon “a flat, closely-cropped lawn” and doesn’t allow for impediments which are pelting me even as I frantically rake the course. Although a subtitle of the book calls it “An Illustrated Introduction to the Stings and Subtleties of America’s Most Misunderstood Sport!” I think this Fall handicap just might qualify as a first rate obstacle course.
Last night we played through anyway, slipping and sliding every which way among the leaves, while bouncing off a multitude of green and hard to black and rotting walnut casings and I started to dislike the trees I had so much admired from my hammock in the summer. Last Sunday Budd Andrews told me that he had potted up over 50 seedings over the years and left them in the road with a “FREE” sign so that now, his progency is planted all over Pelican Rapids. That’s nice, I thought, but honestly I can’t imagine coddling these little suckers. And besides, I always substitute pecans for walnuts in a recipe.
But as a gardener and in the interest of fairness I googled Juglans nigraL and found that even if you don’t prefer them in your brownies, the walnut has been an herbal extract of renown through the centuries in the treatment of everything from parasites to diarrhea to psoriasis. And to add a bit of herbal mojo to the mix, it’s purported to be the black magic recipe of choice if you should care to place a jinx upon someone who’s luck you would like destroyed. In which case you simply burn a black candle enscribed with the enemy’s name, roll up the leftover wax into little balls into which you have placed crushed walnut leaves, and throw them into his/her pathway. Abracadabra! I’m standing in the middle of a vast Black Magic Empire!
On the other hand, the impediments we slogged our way through last night could be an apt metaphor for a far bigger picture. No matter how I try to slide through, hit my marks, sail around the barriers, beat the odds – it is not always an easy or sure sail. That’s life. And I have come to the conclusion at this point, that that’s precisely the way it is supposed to be. If you ask yourself – “What’s the purpose? Why in heaven am I here at just this particular time?” Well, I would guess that most of us would flounder about at that, hemming and hawing for a bit, and stammer and shuffle to bide time before admitting that we have no earthly idea. I can relate.
There have been so many times at various stages of my existence when I dared to speculate and felt overwhelmed. Is it just a matter of being conceived and born, willy nilly, and then racing to some indeterminate end? Or, I find myself whining, “I’m a good person. So why are these inconceivably bad obstacles in my way?”
Those of greater faith could tell me. When I was studying a whole range of esoteric and arcane subjects a number of years ago, one of the major guidelines throughout the entire body of knowledge, was the truth that without conflict there can be no growth. T.M.’s favorite go-to guy, Epictetus, says – “Make full use of what happens to you. Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.” I’m pretty sure that Epictetus would not approve of hefting wax walnut balls at my enemies. Although it’s tempting, knowing that I am more than well equipped in arcane material at the moment.
Last night we had a roaring, good game of crochet despite the obstacles, and I even improved my game in the process. That, I think is the answer.