What Squirrels Make Me Remember

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A very busy squirrel left this shredded walnut shell on the path today. It’s a natural piece of trash, very commonly found as summer turns to fall.

8 years ago this September, I was in Mykolayiv, Ukraine, visiting an orphanage. I had been to Ukraine before, as an archaeologist, but this was a more personal, less academic trip. Whenever I come upon shredded walnut shells this time of year, I remember a particular day at the orphanage, when the children, all four or younger, delighted in bringing me these tough, green softballs to open. In my journal, I wrote:

We walked around the grounds until we came upon a walnut tree ready for harvesting. Iv. [a 3 year-old boy] instantly began picking walnuts off the tree and begging me, “Akoi! Akoi!”  I stepped on them until their green rinds fell away and then broke them open, sometimes with a rock, sometimes with my foot, and shelled out the meat with my fingernails. Iv. ate every tiny bit. When another groupa walked by with their nanny, he had me open walnuts for them. It was like a little party. 

By the end of the day, my fingertips were stained green and my nailbeds were sore, but the simple happiness of that episode is still vivid in my memory.

Earlier in my blog, I wrote a little about Ukraine’s troubles (see The Worst Kind of Trash). Despite the lack of media coverage, Ukraine is still struggling, particularly in the east (for an exceptional story on Ukraine’s current political struggles, see the September 5, 2016 article by Joshua Yaffa: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/05/reforming-ukraine-after-maidan).  It’s easy to get bogged down in the murk of geopolitical struggles, but there’s nothing murky about a smile and a hard-won walnut.

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