Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Seasonal Attention Disorder

Sunset 11-05-10
One day too early for the walnut harvest party

The clouds are back.  I say that every year, don't I?  After the summer dry season, the tinted, shape-shifting clouds highlight the huge space looming above us, and then by association, the curved earth we scratch upon.

Pretty sunrises start the day and spectacular sunsets inspire evening thoughts.

10-16-10 sunrise over G's ridge
Not every day is colorful.  If I am stuck in the office, I sneak out to scan the afternoon sky over the city buildings.  From the parking lot, I rank the size and speed of the clouds to determine how soon I should escape to the wider horizons of the Dipper Ranch.

10-02-10 another glowing evening
Conversely, but related to the seasonal clearing of atmospheric dust, some of the nights have been sparkling clear and the shift in the constellations is apparent.  On many fall nights I wake up long enough to nod at Orion as he dives towards the ocean and then I roll over onto a cat and fall back into dreaming about wide open spaces and sea travels.

Stars from the kitchen window.
Overall, it's a little hard to concentrate at the beginning of a season when you are observing and second-guessing how fast the weather will change and when the rain will take over.

11-05-10 late, late sunset
I stand at the edge of a ridge to absorb the sky and sense bits of earth bleeding into the atmosphere to influence the weather - thus solid, liquid and gaseous elements connect land and sky, past and present, and us to each other.

11-05-10 maple and oak at dusk
We had the annual walnut harvest last weekend.  It seemed a little silly for 20 people to collect walnuts from just 2 trees.  But everyone was chatty and happy in this lovely, transitional weather.  They seemed more excited to participate in some type of earthy fall ritual than to diligently add to their winter larder.  As the party organizer, I kept feeling that the real hostess was an 'orchard sprite' guiding her guests from one outdoor activity to the next in little puffs of crisp air.

Bruce taps down additional walnuts,
and Duncan bows down to the inevitable.
After picking up nuts from the ground, gently rolling those with cracked hulls beneath our feet, and an amusing round of branch bashing, there were enough bags of walnuts for everyone to take home a share.

Friends and neighbors collected walnuts like happy squirrels.
Here are the post-harvest instructions I promised:  The newly harvested walnuts should dry for about 2 weeks in their shells (the walnuts we collected had already fallen out of the outermost covering - the hull).  I usually do this between layers of clamped window screens (described at this link), but you can also store small quantities of unshelled walnuts in a mesh or paper bag for a few weeks to allow the inner kernel 'meat' to dry and cure. The University of California Cooperative Extension Service advises "You can shell walnuts when the kernels have dried enough so they break easily when bent."

Sunset for the walnut harvest
Freeze any shelled walnuts that are not immediately eaten - it keeps the walnut oil fresher.  Shelled walnuts keep well in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 6 months, or in the freezer for one year.

My method for cracking walnuts is here.  Another tip I've picked up from my Central Valley friend is to microwave a small handful of walnuts for 20 seconds before eating or adding to your cereal or salad.  This warms up the walnut oil and enhances the taste.  The California Walnut website has a video on storing walnuts, recipes and nutritional info.

Lori's beautiful pie at the potluck.
Hey, I didn't get any!  Was it good?
Between the online and under-tree voters, including 3 rounds throughout the evening as new guests arrived to break several ties, the winner of the 2010 label for the Happy Snake Ranch Estate Walnuts is The Gopher Snake on Old Farm Equipment.

Happy Snake Ranch
Estate Walnuts 2010
Sometimes, I get overwhelmed with my responsibilities at the Dipper Ranch and sharing it truthfully with you, and I am a clumsy hostess.  Then something happens like Janet tells a spine-tingling story about the coyotes ambushing her dog, or the cats demonstrate their wrestling techniques to guests on the living room floor and I remember everyday life is pretty much out of my control anyway and there just might be a beautiful ephemeral sunset tonight.

Enjoy your walnuts and enjoy this beautiful distracting weather.  When it is cold and dark this winter, the orchard sprite has saved bits of bright clouds and sunset in those walnuts for you.

Nate Donovan, my photography mentor, captured the heart of the sunset hikers.


  1. Nice post and pictures! I lived in Turlock for a bit and remember the farmers coming in after a long day of walnut harvesting at the local town gathering spot. Their rough hands were blackened from the walnut shelling. I never really liked walnuts as a kid, but I've been discovering things taste so much better "fresh."

  2. Lovely. I love your conclusion re: most things are out of your control anyhow. =) Smart!

    I lived in and around Chico, CA when I was a kid and every year my dad would drive us to these HUGE huge old walnut trees and we'd stuff piles of walnuts into big paper bags. Later we'd smash them with a hammer on the cement floor of the garage. Totally fun. Then my grandma would make zucchini bread with those nuts. YUM!

    Amazing sunset photos! =)

  3. I briefly met the orchardist who planted these very trees. He said they are a special heart-shaped variety that fall out of the hull as they drop from the tree and how delicious they are. So we don't have to worry about black fingers. I was hungry for more stories of the ranch but he was quickly gone. I hope to meet him again but his people are all disappearing from these hills faster than I can collect their stories.

  4. Hi Cindy - just dropped by to see what was going on at Dipper Ranch - and I see you've got some beautiful sunsets going on out there. I really enjoy your observations of the land and the life it supports.

    Happy Thanksgiving :-)


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