Of all the trees in high summer, the walnut casts the loveliest shade. Its dappled cool is soft and tranquil; it’s difficult to worry about things under a walnut canopy. Only the plane tree rivals it.
In September the nuts begin to fall and in the village, this was when the mad woman came into her own. I would watch her going into the house opposite by the big chained gate, hammer in hand. She looked as if she was intent on felony. But in her swollen red fist the tool was as precise as a scalpel. I don’t know how she managed to get the walnuts out so entire, so undamaged. Like a brain surgeon, she tenderly removed two perfect hemispheres from each cracked open shell-skull. Patience was a big part of it. And the willingness to work slowly, to take all day over it.
This year, in the bed beside the road, the new walnut tree has produced its first fruits. I went out to get them this afternoon. High in the tall fir by the gate, a red squirrel had absconded with one of them and was noisily gnawing it apart, as skilled, in his way, as the mad woman from the village. Back inside at the kitchen table, I used a nutcracker and mangled part of the first one I opened, which is why the photograph shows only three pieces. It was delicious, though. Still moist and juicy, its skin membrane-thin and giving a sharply bitter flavour.