The rain was turning to slush against the windows of the plane as we scooted down the tarmac a few weeks ago, on its way to becoming the first snow of the season in Whitehorse. I was headed south and in good company —it seems that seasonality is a trait shared by many Yukoners, feathered and non.
Here on the Gulf Islands of BC, the season of rain has just begun, and the trunk of the thirty-year-old walnut tree I am climbing is slippery in the places I try to wedge my rubber boots against the pockmarked bark. In an effort at season-extension that could only exist in this age of absurdly cheap travel, I am helping my parents with their harvest after putting our Yukon garden to bed for the winter.
As I find a solid grip from which to knock the high-hanging fruit down to the ground with a stick, I think of how often I have despaired over people who haven’t known what a carrot looks like in the ground; and, how often I’ve been encouraged by programs like the Yukon’s Kids on the Farm, that gets little hands dirty, and full of freshly grown food.
Until my parents moved here and inherited these trees, I had no idea what a walnut looked like in its fleshy green casing. I, like the multitudes of urbanites who have never dug in a garden, would have walked right by the precious bundles of protein and fat, oblivious to their value. I stand humbled.
And then there’s the tree itself —not a square inch of bark on the main trunk is unmarred by the work of generations of enthusiastic woodpeckers, yet the tree continues to produce many nuts each year; I am in awe.
Having lived most of my life north of 60, I find it marvelous that food does, in fact, grow on trees.
Trees that bear fruit are certainly not unknown in the Yukon, and there are many growers enjoying yearly crops of apples (both crab and full-size), cherries, and plums. Of nut trees, the reports are fewer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the future sees more springing up around the territory. Gardeners and farmers are always looking for a new challenge, even here, where there is no shortage to begin with. I happen to know of a number of Siberian pines planted in the Whitehorse area this year, which will hopefully be bearing pine nuts in 10 or 15 years.
Trees of course, even more so than the berry-bearing shrubs that are more obvious choices for our climate, are a long-term investment, even a legacy project. Perhaps not to be harvested by the planter, but by the next generation.
I wonder who planted this walnut tree, and if he, in his dotage, is somewhere enjoying the literal fruits of someone else’s youthful harvesting efforts. I hope so. It seems like good karma to plant a fruit tree.
For now, I import my nuts —entering into that age-old agreement of trade, but without a corporate mediator: Cassis from Yukon currants for Saltspring walnuts. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
My mum thinks so too.
Did you know?
There is only one walnut tree native to Canada, called the Butternut (Juglans cinerea), or White Walnut. According to the Hardy Fruit Trees nursery in Quebec, in can survive in plant hardiness zone 2 – most of the Yukon is colder, zones 0 and 1, but it’s certainly possible to create a sheltered microclimate for a tree. I’d love to hear of a hardy Yukon grower who is attempting nuts.
Can’t wait for the nut tree? For now wild game and fish, locally raised meat, and plants like lambsquarters are my choices for local protein.