It’s finally Fall here in Dallas. The trees were green one day, and the next they were not. A few stalwart sweetgum trees changed colors, but most just went yellow then brown, their leaves fluttering down as if the trees couldn’t wait to be shed of them. The live oaks are a different story. They keep their leaves but aggressively hurl their nuts to the ground. They land like miniature grenades with great POWS, slamming earthward in a final statement of intention. These are not the adorable little acorns that come off of regular oak trees, with cunning little caps and round cheeks. No, the live oaks mean business. They sport huge, pointy lethal weapons meant to carry on the line. They are survivalist trees that endure scorching hot summers, no rain, and then bitterly cold winters. They have no reservations about bombing you with their fusillade of ground-penetrating nuts. The squirrels busily dodge about collecting them and then bury them to eat later. It occurs to me that whole forests have been grown by squirrels forgetting where they buried their nuts. At any rate, if squirrel activity is anything to go by, it’s going to be a cold winter this year.
In East Tennessee where we lived for 10 years, you could ostensibly tell if it was going to be a cold winter by looking at wooly caterpillars. The wider the band in the middle of the “wooly bear” – not to be confused with the actual bears that live in the forested mountains nearby – the harsher the winter. Texas is altogether different state, and doesn’t seem to have any decent animal prognosticators, four-legged or no-legged, squirrel activity notwithstanding. We rely on the weatherman. I don’t envy him his job. It’s just brutally hot for months on end, then you get to mid-November and its blazing hot one day and then cold for the next three months, with perhaps two nice fall days as a placeholder between.
The squirrels don’t want to be bothered as they stock in their winter food supply. They taunt my dog as we walk, letting her get thisclose before scurrying up a tree. They’ve been going the extra mile this year. One intrepid squirrel took advantage of my October squash display outside our door which I’d left out for another month since they are equally good as Thanksgiving decorations. The squirrel latched onto an ugly, nobby squash and dragged it to the edge of our porch and allowed it to defenestrate itself to the sidewalk below and, well, squash open. It left a tell-tail trail of weeping squashy insides to the bushes where the little rodent had its feast. I don’t mind actually. I like creatures in general, even if they are
rats in disguise just squirrels, and can certainly share my porch decorations.
While discussing the weather here in Dallas, I cannot leave out the sudden arrival of not one but ten tornadoes here one evening a few weeks ago. The largest of them skipped along quite close to us, about a half mile north, leaving behind a swath of destruction. It came on quite suddenly, which seems to be a theme with the weather here in Texas. Fifteen minutes prior to the tornado warning sirens going off, the dog and I had been enjoying a balmy evening walk. There was a bit of sheet lightning way off to the east, but nothing that said a tornado was coming, let alone ten of them. Having grown up in Kansas, which is a whole ‘nuther kind of weather place that has notable and dramatic storms, I’m knowledgeable about what to do when a tornado siren goes off. I’m also the generation that learned how to hide under our desks with our arms over our heads to protect us from the nuclear bombs about to drop when these same sirens sound, so, you know, I respond with alacrity when one goes off.
My alacrity in this case was in the form of dragging my college-aged son outside to prove to him that, yes the sky does turn green when there is a tornado nearby. This no doubt earns me a nomination to the Darwin Awards of parenting (however I shall lose to the man who put honey on his child’s hand so the bear would come closer for the photograph. There are degrees of dumb). In my defense, I’d been politely eye-rolled and mmm-hmmm’d about this green-sky thing for years, and the ability to prove myself right was irresistible. I carpe diem’d and grabbed a teachable moment. We stood outside on our balcony as the wind gathered steam with enthusiastic whirling gusts. A good burst of lightning revealed an emerald green sky laced with towering black clouds. Truly emerald green, not just the muddy bruised green the sky turns when there is still time to get to the cellar. This was an alarming green, a this-sucker-is-right-on-top-of-us sort of green. We dashed inside and hustled into the bathroom (no basements in Texas) to ride out the storm with my husband and our dog.
Later, seeing the damage the storm had inflicted, I felt chastened. It’s dumb to go outside during a tornado warning, as the things are so unpredictable and can level buildings in just moments. The whirl could have easily sucked us up into the vortex like Dorothy or chucked a roof at us. Acorns slammed down like good poetry are dangerous, but nothing to the full-on unpredictable rage of a tornado. Maybe I should re-think my idea that fall is my favorite time of year. Or invest in a helmet.
Photo by me shows the lovely little capped acorn surrounded by the lethal ones.