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What A Nutty Year

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

2023 has been a nutty year. Literally!

It seemed like everywhere we turned, we always saw an acorn. Or avoided stepping on green walnut husks. And it's not just in our area. All over the country, naturalists indicated that it's been a mast year for many hardwoods.

My family lives in Madison, and we are lucky to have several oaks as neighbors. On a recent afternoon on our walk to the park, I noticed the sheer number of brown oak leaves that were covering the ground long after the maple leaves fell, some of which were sticking out of half melted snow piles.

There was one oak in particular that the squirrels enjoyed visiting this fall, and now I know why! At the base of the tree Z and I discovered dozens and dozens of acorn caps and shells. They hit the foraging motherload, and by the looks of it they are sufficiently plump for winter. Hopefully they had more than enough to fill their bellies so they could scatter and bury more acorns that may one day sprout into a mighty oak.

I looked up at the tree and a few leaves were still clinging to the ends of the branches. I scanned the horizon and most other trees were bare. Except, just a stone's throw away, another type of oak was still nearly full, its leaves a golden hue from the setting sun. It was a poignant reminder that we are all on our own timeline. Our own path. And yet, we are all interconnected. We share the same environment. Soil. Water. Sun. Air.

It's theorized that plants and trees communicate with one another and, in ways we are still learning, support each other. For example, syncing up a mast benefits the survival of all hardwood species in the area, because there are more nuts and seeds to go around and a greater likelihood that the extras will be dispersed and take root.

I'm reminded of how empowering it is to be surrounded by people who value collaboration over competition, and it's one of the reasons I'm so excited for the future as Playful Acorns continues to grow our network of resources and opportunities to support caregivers and kids and their connection to each other, nature, and the broader community.

We are on hiatus from programs for the rest of 2023 while we recover from sickness and hope to enjoy the holidays together with family. I hope you'll join us on this journey again into 2024 and beyond! Thank you!

Winter Solstice Events

In the meantime, if you're looking for ways to spend time in nature to connect with family and community over the next few weeks, here are some fun upcoming events from some other local organizations:

  • Dec. 17 (Sunday from 1-3 p.m.): Welcoming a Winter Wonderland Hike with Dane County Parks, McCarthy County Park Shelter, 4841 County Highway TT, Cottage Grove

    • Take in the brisk winter air and explore the park, followed by a warm fire and s'mores. If snow conditions are ideal, snow shoes will be provided for ages 6 and up at no additional cost. ($10, Kids under 5 are free and do not need to register.)

  • Dec. 17 (Sunday from 3-5 p.m.): Welcoming Winter with Naturing in Madison, Hoyt Park, 3902 Regent St, Madison

    • Let’s Welcome Winter Together in nature connection and community. Keep warm around the fire, sip hot cocoa, walk the Solstice spiral and Story & Stroll, among other activities in partnership with Naturing in Madison, Outdoors We Learn, Mud Kitchen Mama, Outdoor Kids OT, and Playful Acorns. Bring along winter gear donations. (FREE, RSVP)

  • Dec. 21 (Thursday at 10 a.m.): Winter Solstice Pop Up with Dane County Forest Friends, Hoyt Park, 3902 Regent St, Madison

    • Play and celebrate the shortest day of the year! The host will provide wood to make a fire, tea or hot cocoa to share, and "The Shortest Day" to read. Meet by the playground. (FREE, RSVP)

  • Dec. 21 (Thursday at 4 p.m.): Winter Solstice with Flicker, Pop's Knoll parking lot of Donald County Park, 1945 State Highway 92, Mount Horeb

    • Circle around a fire at the park to celebrate the rebirth of the sun and welcoming the light back during the darkest day of the year through words, silence, community, and communion with the more-than-human world. Bring a blanket or chair and beverage/snack. (Donations Welcome)

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