It’s 6:15 AM and my little street in Roxboro, North Carolina sounds like Saigon during the height of the Vietnamese War. Pop-pop-bang. Bangbangbangbang. Pow!
Izzy jumps. I look to see where the sound is coming from. Is it a car backfiring? Someone firing a rifle at a squirrel or a raccoon?
I’m awake now, and the sound keeps going. Ba-bang-bang. Pop-pop-pop. Still looking upwards, I trip and in catching myself, I look down. The street is littered with acorns. Hundreds of them on the sidewalk. Little piles of them in the gutters. Way too many scattered everywhere. So that’s what the sound is. There must be angry squirrels up in the trees loading up their little arms and filling their cheeks, then dropping the stash of acorns before they get to their nests.
Poppoppoppop! The acorn machine-gun starts again, and Izzy whimpers as one hits him atop his head. He does a little dance, glancing up at the tree we’re passing under, looking for those damn gray monsters he regularly chases when we’re walking down Main Street before the sun rises. He stops and plants his feet, gives an angry growl, as if shaking a virtual fist at the squirrels he’s sure are sending small brown bombs from above.
This is what is called a “mast year,” a year when ridiculously large amounts of acorns end up in piles beneath the trees. Some scientists think it’s because the fruit of the nut is not eaten by birds and other animals (such as those pesky squirrels), while others believe it’s the weather (too much/too little rain) that results in either no acorns or the opposite — way too many. Last year, there were complaints that there were few acorns (and in some places, none), but this year is just the opposite. Some people in North Carolina state that there were a number of bear sightings in unusual places last year because they were searching for non-existent acorns. Izzy and I are hoping that this year’s bumper crop means the bears will stay where they should. I’m sure that the deer, who also eat the little brown nuts, will find themselves full and happy and that they are less likely to roam out in the open during hunting season.
Whatever the case, Izzy and I will be happy when the nasty, hard nuts disappear from the streets and sidewalks and from the angry squirrels who are probably laughing their fool heads off when they bop one of us with their tiny torpedoes.