On the southwest corner of my front yard stands a double-forked black walnut tree. Its height of some forty-feet is ample enough to cast a belly shadow across the front porch of the house in the peak of summer. For that I am exceedingly grateful. By early October however, if not sooner, it becomes a skeleton of its formerly buoyant self. Its alternate compound leaves will have, by-and-large, fallen to the ground along with the slender brown tendrils to which the leaves clung, brittle and piling up like a Milton Bradley game of Pick-Up-Sticks on the droopy fescue lawn. The tree, I suppose due to summer drought, becomes awkwardly and prematurely barren of most vegetation with the exception of its enormous quantity of fruit dangling overhead like a million blunt swords of Damocles. Living beneath the tree this time of year is an equally precarious, if not epic, affair.
Mowing the lawn, I run the risk of getting pelted in the head by cascading walnuts or enduring their violent, revolutionary decapitation within the blade housing below. Often, they fall in single, lonely thuds to the ground. Other times, they fall in rapid-fire clusters. Occasionally, and thankfully less often, they fall on the roof of the house with a clumsy rap. But if the wind picks up, or scrambling squirrels jostle the branches just right, a series of green golf ball-sized fruits plummets to the ground and pavement below as if in an embarrassingly poor juggling act. And that’s when things get dangerous for perusers like me. With each ominous pass beneath its boughs, I am certain that I will be knocked unconscious by one of the blunt spheres, waking up to find that several Rip Van Winkle hours have passed with only a tender knot on my skull as proof of any botanical villainy.
Aside from any Newtonian peril, walnut trees entertain the natural world with a biochemical process known as allelopathy, a method of Darwinian survival. The tree secretes chemicals into the earth that prohibit other plants and trees, even its own kind, from growing near it. Essentially, it monopolizes the ground it inhabits, and, in that respect, I am no different.
Much like my caution beneath raining walnuts, I find I am afraid of most everything involving the unknown, the future, and anything outside my domain of control, which is to say everything. It is no simple fear, instead, a near-paralyzing comedy of capitulation, that although lonely, cold and brittle, is vital enough to cast its own belly shadow across the sphere of my world. I discover inside me anger — at the world for being the liar that it is and always has been, and at myself for believing those terrible, fear-mongering lies.
In my own allelopathy, I have for years welcomed the deepest demons by pretending the space I inhabited was and always would be mine, a gift I believe I rightfully deserved. I kill off any honorable Christ-inhabited humility by decaying the Root from which it springs. I fend off those who try to care, those who seek to lean in, those who invade my territory, by poisoning their atmospheres with my own mechanisms of defense. I am joy’s thief.
Christ, where there is hope left to pluck from the living boughs, pray, reveal yourself before this fool has claimed an entire realm for his own crown. There is too much poison, too much anger, too much sadness, too much listless memory to pulse through the veins of any single soul. Beneath the burdened branches of this far-fetched, far-reaching, irrepressible hope, be merciful, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and remind the Triple Life inside me that the sweet birds will one day return to nest, roost, sing and play in the boughs created long ago with only so much as a single, spoken word. May the Triple Life return with that same whispered word.
Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.