Friday, November 4, 2011

David Sedaris, Peter and Paul: Mice, Squirrels and the Walnut Tree

From his book of essays Dress Your Family in Corduroy & Denim,  in "Night of the Living Dead" (appropriate reading for a Halloween night), David Sedaris writes of the walnut tree in his side yard in France, a tree from which his partner gathers the walnuts every year, and lays them on the attic floor to dry, the attic where the mice run rampant over David's head, and David goes 'nuts' over the mice going 'nuts' over the walnuts.  A walnut tree in the side yard? Mice?  In France? No, a walnut tree in the side yard . . . squirrels . . . in Massachusetts.

Scroll back many a year to the walnut tree in the side yard on Lowell Avenue in Newtonville, the walnut tree which grew tall and strong and was fruited with tons of walnuts every year, (were there walnut trees in Marash?) but walnuts which the Marashtsi planters of the tree never tasted.  Why?  Not the Newtonville mice, but the Newtonville squirrels.  The squirrels along with Farmers Peter and Paul knew exactly when the walnuts would ripen, and every year, the  day before they (yes, they, Peter and Paul and the squirrels) were about to harvest the walnuts, they (yes, they, Peter and Paul and the squirrels) would admire the fruit and look forward to their next day's harvest.  And every year, true to the squirrels' wit, the day of the harvest, the tree would be bare of walnuts.  The squirrels had beat Peter and Paul to the punch (a hard thing to do, believe me) and the squirrels, not Peter or Paul, had harvested every last walnut.  The following year the same scenario.  And the year after that until the farmers would have no more of it.  Failing to capture every squirrel in the neighborhood with their Have-A-Heart trap (which fed Mr. Southwick for many a year, Mr. Southwick who would drown the squirrels (still in the have-a-heart trap) in his bathtub and eat them for supper daily), Peter cut down the walnut tree.  If we can't harvest even one walnut, the squirrels can't either!

One more thing about the walnut tree.  It spread some kind of poison about and around the ground under its branches, preventing any other plants to grow within its reach. Is there a lesson to be learned here?


  1. Great story. I didn't realize anything (human or animal) could outwit Peter and Paul!! Smart squirrels.

  2. The Squirrel Wars
    Long after the last time grandma’s pockets were emptied into the hands of Ronnie and Joyce; and when they were old enough no longer to bound over the stone wall for candy, but, instead, into their convertibles for an afternoon spin, or an evening dance; and harvest had followed upon harvest; and our orchard had grown smaller and the trees larger; and in that month when the rainbow of summer had fallen to earth in the leaves of autumn and blades of grass were no longer being made pregnant with dew, but, instead, were filled with the promise of frost and paralysis; and on that day when the cavity of late afternoon threatened thunder, our fruit trees witnessed the beginning of the wars with the shadow tails of grey.