You might, if you listen carefully, hear a mole whistling –
This morning when I went to the end of the garden to empty the compost, I noticed a hazelnut on the ground, and once I had found the one, more and more appeared. I stuffed the pockets of my breeches until they were as tight as hamster cheeks. Fifty-six, just in that first gathering. I still count. It was not so many years ago – five perhaps, that I remember the first, the one and only. I recall quite plainly how I cupped it in my paws as I brought it back to the burrow. I placed it on a porcelain saucer, admired it from all angles – first with husk on and then with husk off, and I wished there was something I could do to preserve the satiny wooden shell, while still obtaining the kernel.
When I first came to this island fresh hazelnuts could not be had for love or money. I pined. I dreamt of Bernese delicacies like Haselnussleckerli, made with hazelnuts, almonds, candied citrus, honey and a good dose of firewater. And then, one birthday, my dear neighbour gave me a tiny tree. It was called White American but we renamed it Pocahontas. The nuts are huge, New World ones, not the little things I would gather in the lanes on my way home from school in Switzerland. These are so big, that when a Lithuanian friend brought me a pair of wooden nutcrackers back from Vilna, the nuts wouldn’t fit.
My fecund hazelnut tree has sent me scuttling to Great Uncle Mole’s encyclopaedias where I learn that the root shoots might be used for making crates, coal corves, baskets, hurdles, whip-handles, withs and bands. A veritable industry awaits me in my own garden. A forked branch might become a divining rod, especially for silver lodes or in France, as a baguette divinatoire, to track down criminals. For the moment, though, I am content just to gather, admire and eat.
I am whistling because I love hazelnuts, but I am whistling with such extra, unmolish exuberance, because hazelnuts mean it is the beginning of autumn. It is a time of mellowing light and deepening colour. Apples weigh down branches, leaves are beginning to turn, and there is from time to time a whiff of cool, dare I say snowy, breeze on my snout. If you were to ask me which was my favourite season, I would say winter. But I love autumn more because it is the herald; the joy of winter and its quiet reflectiveness is still to come. Autumn is a time for gathering nuts, knitting socks, preparing the hearth for the hibernating days of blanketing nights and stillness.
Ah, anticipation: the pleasure of savouring every moment of the time before.