By: Sandy Churchill
Is there such a thing as a “nature hoarder”? Truly, I prefer the term “appreciator”, “collector” or “crafter”. As a six year-old, I scrambled to collect rocks and pebbles of myriad colors and unusual shapes, some sparkly, some striped, and tried to hoard them in my bureau drawer nicknamed by my mom and dad as the “junk drawer.” I bristled at this term because these treasures were far from junk! This drawer brimmed with rocks and shells, beads and snippets of jewelry elastic, favorite stickers, wooden spoons from Hoodsie cups (which I saved to make tiny “good luck charm” people), and adorable apple-emblazoned caps from cider jugs—which I fashioned into “secret decoder bracelets” to wear and share with friends.
Long ago, my mom insisted my ever-growing rock collection be housed outdoors and I settled on a lovely nesting place protected at the base of two adjoining tree trunks.
One year as the pint-sized “cruise director” of my neighborhood, I organized an acorn collecting contest for the kids on the block and we found over 900 acorns! Honestly, I don’t remember what the plan was after that but I am hoping we gifted our local squirrels and chipmunks with an epic harvest!
While I have always had a penchant for small things in nature—pinecones, seashells, acorns, and sea-glass—“owl nuts” are a more recent obsession. These petite, whimsical tree pods resemble adorable owl faces when cracked open, and it literally took me months to find out what they actually are called and what kind of tree launches them onto the ground once or twice a year (a black walnut—woohoo!).
It began when my sister-in-law gifted us with a family plaque she bought at a craft fair, which featured an “owl” representing each family member and perched on a branch. I loved it instantly. In fact, we had a crazy quest to add an owl when our youngest child was born and we joke that Timmy got the biggest owl because of the size nut we found to add him to the plaque.
Fast-forward to present-day: my husband and I took a much-needed nature walk at our local park. It was a chilly February day, but the sun was out and minimal snow patches lingered over the landscape. We were leaving “kindness rocks” our CCD class had created, hoping to share some joy and offer encouragement to the next wanderer who came for a picnic or happened by while walking a dog. Rounding a bend in our stroll, we happened upon a glorious sight: owl nuts strewn all over the ground! Most were still intact, but seven of these babies were popped open and peering their cute little faces upward! Hallelujah! This was a present just for me! I love owls and I feel blessed to find these sweet treasures! My husband didn’t even question my unbridled joy. He helped me gather them so we could tote them home. Maybe they will turn into a craft project. Maybe they will sit perched on a windowsill as a parade of baby owl faces. At the very least, they are a reminder of a whimsical find on a winter walk, a reward for pausing to see nature’s treasure’s before us…