In August, after a month-long heat wave subsided, I moved my lawn chair to the southeast corner of the garden under the branches of a young walnut tree. The leaves were lush and green, and it was a pleasant place to view the beans and cucumbers “close up” and from a new perspective. The tree was the size of a small bush when we first moved here and there were many times I thought that it should be chopped down, especially when my husband tilled a new garden plot around it, but I am glad he left it alone, because it has earned a cherished place in my heart.
We had lots of rain this summer, too much in fact. The walnut tree started losing its leaves early in September, a good month before the first frost. Once again I searched for a place in the shade. I hadn’t been up to the garden for a few days, and as I slowly navigated up the hill – coffee cup and journal in one hand, lawn chair in the other – I saw walnuts lying on the ground under the tree.
Suddenly I remembered another time in October, a day cool and delicious like this one, when my mother and I picked walnuts on the side of the road in the nearby town of Long Grove. I can still see the sun filtering through the yellow leaves of two huge walnut trees and hundreds of bright green husks lying on the gravel. I remember how we filled our baskets over and over again, dumping our stockpile into boxes in the back of mom’s brown station wagon. The beauty of that day lingers in my memory.
After reading my Bible and journaling for a while, I picked one of the last bushels of beans from this year’s harvest and headed back down to the house. I accidentally left my camera hanging from one of the trellises, and sent Elizabeth up to fetch it. She saw the walnuts lying on the ground, too. When she came back down to the house she said, “Mom, I want to make ink out of the walnuts.” I thought to myself, Oh Lord, I see the connection you’re making – special moments planted in the fertile soil of a young girl’s heart – seasonal traditions passed down from mother to daughter on hazy October days.
We filled a cast iron Dutch oven with water and walnuts to slowly simmer on the stove. Hours later, after some of the liquid evaporated, we added a tablespoon of gum arabic (a preservative used in making ink) and a tablespoon of vinegar.When I researched how to make walnut ink on the internet, I came across the Hammon’s black walnut site. I was tickled by a sentence I read, “Black walnuts are a hands-on product, from planting to harvest to final processing.” “That’s it,” I exclaimed to my children. “That’s my job. To give you a hunger and thirst for the Lord – from planting to harvest to final processing!”
After my mother became a Christian, she gave me that hunger, born out of the pain and suffering she experienced as she bravely fought against a debilitating disease. My father recently wrote a letter to us kids (there’s five of us), and included this sentiment about her. “Your mom was the fire that lit all of our lives; we should always remember her with reverence and gratitude for her relentless effort to get us all saved.”
My mother led me to the Lord in her living room and I am forever in her debt. She showed me how walk by faith through the good times and bad, especially when God moves your chair – through circumstances – to another window or in this case another side of the garden, to help you gain a heavenly perspective and a whole new outlook on life.
I don’t know what prompted my mother to invite me to go walnut picking. I’m glad we had a few special times together before she died because I was married and busy with a life of my own and looking back now, my visits were all too infrequent. After she passed away, I was helping my father get ready for a rummage sale when I discovered several cans of walnuts in their basement. A warm feeling washed over me. I brought those cans home as memorial of our relationship and kept them in the back of my closet for the longest time.
I wonder, come next fall, if Elizabeth will remember the special time we had together this year making ink. Will the golden haze of October remind her that it’s time to gather walnuts? The Lord willing, I will be ready and waiting with my basket at the garden’s edge…