Ode to an Acorn

by Courtney Skaggs

Acorn, we kept a tent at the edge of the tree line. We tended a fire together.
We laid atop a wasp nest. I was stung, but thought it was a dream.

Do you remember?

The place where large mammals came sniffing in the night.
The sounds of owls and amphibians and bats coming awake.
The arcane entrances of caves.

A moth in the morning, drawn to our propane-powered lantern, spread its wings a final time and was devoured by millipedes. I watched the embers of the fire dying back to ash, watched you sip your foraged tea, water whistling in the thrifted kettle.

For years, I followed you, and for miles. I learned from you the names of plants we shared a home with. I know them now by sight, and some, too, by taste.
Spicebush, ramps, sassafras, wild ginger, shagbark hickory, black walnut.
In the damp and the dark, down on the cool forest floor, thick with pine needles and the confetti of honey locusts, I felt safe with you, sheltered from the heat and humidity of the outside world.

We picked orb-weavers off each other’s backs.

You pressed a berry to my lips that tasted of citrus but wasn’t yet ripe.

We found groves of trees every summer that baffled me with their utterly tropical nature.

We threw sticks and laughter up towards the heavens, hoping to call down some of those weird, green, potato-like fruits. We gathered them to the point of overflow in our arms.

What did they taste like?
Exactly what they were.

We kicked dirt over a dying flame, left no trace.
I wanted to stay in sylvan rapture with you, but now I’m four thousand miles away and this terrain is unfamiliar.
The ground is soft, like a mudpie.
I’m afraid it will swallow me whole.

All the trees look the same to me.
You tell me it’s true; most of them are, in fact, the same organism sharing a single root system.
Oaks aren’t like that; their taproots run deep.

Let’s place a bet on when the first snow will fall. Acorn, I want to harvest something with you before the cold settles in the crevices between my bones. Do you think you can make it here before then? How will I know if it’s ash falling from the sky or snow?
When I hold an acorn rubbed smooth under my icy fingertips, I think about home.

Acorn, tell me: can an oak tree grow in permafrost?

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