November 25, 2020
Winter Seeds and Berries
Last week I got quiet and didn’t speak. Making way for a change of season, personally as well as in the natural world. Some form of winter will come, even in these increasingly temperate zones around Austin. The woods are mostly brown—branches nearly empty, except for seeds and berries. Small splashes of pink, orange, red, and even blue, enliven the otherwise monochrome landscape. Mother nature has made provision for the winter months, preparing to host the wild creatures who depend on her for survival—birds, deer, squirrels, foxes, possums, coyotes, and others. The late-blooming flowers graciously fed the pollinators—honey bees, moths and butterflies throughout the fall, including the monarchs who migrate through. Now the seeds and berries offer themselves.
We lost two large red oaks this summer. This means acorns are few in our yard—the squirrels must gather from a wider field. We have been poor stewards of our third of an acre so we have nothing much to offer winter visitors. Here’s an accounting of the provision our land has to offer: the possumhaw in the front yard has plenty of bright red berries. The nandina berries, also called heavenly bamboo, are slowly turning from white, to orange, to red. And we have a few hackberries. The one remaining mature red oak has no acorns and is showing signs of disease. Nothing can be done, the arborist told us. Let the tree live as long as it can. The one chile pequin on the side yard has quietly died, unnoticed by us. A lovely plant with bright red chiles.
Across the road, in the greenbelt, the juniper trees are full of blue-colored berries. They are harder to see because the juniper is a perennial but I often see them on the ground. I’m also seeing beautyberries which grow in tight clusters along the stem. These mulberry purple berries are stunning but they will be soon gone. There are other berries I don’t know by name but the birds and other wildlife know. There’s a deep pink berry that grows on woody bushes. Its tight clusters of soft berries load the branches.
There’s so much yet to learn about the plant world. I’m just beginning. We are determined to be better stewards of this small patch of land, offering more provision for wildlife in the coming years. I’m humbled by how much the natural world now depends on humans for its existence. We have taken so much land, treating it as a natural resource or commodity instead of the gift it is. We have taken so little responsibility for the land we have ‘developed’. We have forgotten that everything depends on everything else. Our ignorance is causing deep pain to the natural world. Planting native species on all available land is a vital step in sustaining life on Earth. Our native possumhaws host 97 native moths and caterpillars—creatures whose lives are part of the life cycle that humans depend on for survival. Mother nature in all her wisdom makes provision for everyone, including for what Robin Wall Kimmerer calls the more than human world. A berry is fruit, seed, and provision for the future, a cause for hope. Our more than human relations depend on it for their survival. And we do too.