The Black Walnut







My mother and I debate:
we could sell
the black walnut tree
to the lumberman,
and pay off the mortgage.
Likely some storm anyway
will churn down its dark boughs,
smashing the house. We talk
slowly, two women trying
in a difficult time to be wise.
Roots in the cellar drains,
I say, and she replies
that the leaves are getting heavier
every year, and the fruit
harder to gather away.
But something brighter than money
moves in our blood – an edge
sharp and quick as a trowel
that wants us to dig and sow.
So we talk, but we don’t do

What my mother and I both know
is that we’d crawl with shame
in the emptiness we’d made
in our own and our fathers’ backyard.
So the black walnut tree
swings through another year
of sun and leaping winds,
of leaves and bounding fruit,
and, month after month, the whip-
crack of the mortgage.
~Mary Oliver from “The Black Walnut Tree” from Twelve Moons




photo by Dan Gibson




We bought this old farm twenty five years ago:
the Lawrence family “Walnut Hill Farm”~
a front yard lined with several tall black walnut trees
brought as seedlings in a suitcase from Ohio
in the ought-1900’s.

These trees thrived for 80 years on this hilltop farm
overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north,
the Nooksack River valley to the west,
the Cascade peaks to the east,
each prolific in leaves
and prodigious in fruit.

The first year we were here,
a windstorm took one tree down.
A neighbor offered
to mill the twisted trunk for shares
so the fallen tree became planks
of fine grained chocolate hued lumber.

This old tree lines our kitchen cupboards,
a daily reminder of an immortality
living on in a legacy left behind~
sturdy while imperfect,
so beautiful to the eye and the heart.







6 thoughts on “The Black Walnut

  1. I have been bequeathed two Walnut wood dressers from my maternal grandmother’s home. They are my most precious possessions, as are my loving memories of her love for me. The dressers will be passed on to my nieces. Another memory of grandma is the Black Walnut cake with cream cheese frosting that she always had ready for me when I and my four brothers arrived at her home for July and August. Black Walnut has such a strong, unique flavor – hard to forget – but it was my favorite. My brothers did not like it which was ok with me. I think we may overlook sometimes the power of our olfactory and taste senses and the way that they tug at our memories.


  2. I had someone give me some black walnut boards and stored them in the shed for several years. I came upon a carpenter who agreed to make a stand for my television from the aging wood. He did a wonderful job and now I have a lasting treasure that will outlive me. I look forward to your most inspiring posts.


  3. What a lovely and evocative post this is. I had forgotten Mary Oliver’s poem and will save it now in my Commonplace Book, certain it will show up in my own musings one day. We live on a road lined with black walnuts and have several trees on our own little acreage here. We had a fine time harvesting them a few years ago, but, sadly haven’t since. When we first moved here, we couldn’t figure out what the large patches of brown stain were on our road. Haha! It was walnut stain from the windfall walnuts along the road. Thank you for this post.


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