The large walnut tree in the garden is gnarled and looks ancient. It is too close to the house and its spreading shade causes problems in the veg patch and salad beds. But we love it. It makes its presence known all year. Its kinked twigs are brittle and lichen covered. The rooks crash around in the spring, breaking off chunks and dragging them back to their tangled nests in the churchyard. At leaf burst and when the pollen flies, the tree is alive with finches and tits, clambering and picking their way around the canopy, feasting. In the summer the woodpecker families hammer into its branches and trunk, or use it as a staging post before they approach the peanut feeders. In early summer the first crop of small, green walnuts fall. These are the walnuts that you pickle. They are collected whole, complete with their leathery green jackets, before the shell has formed inside. They are pricked and brined for a fortnight and then spread in the sun to dry. Once they turn black, they can be packed into jars and topped up with vinegar. They are great in a venison casserole!
And right now it is doing what it does best - dropping mature walnuts onto the lawn. We stamp on them to remove the outer jackets and shake the nuts onto a tray by the fire to dry and keep until Christmas. We bag some up and share with neighbours - a fair swap for their bramleys and figs. Our walnuts are small and I don't know why. Perhaps the tree is old or needs pruning. But there are plenty of them and they taste great in a blue cheese salad or smashed together with handfuls of basil and grated Parmesan to make pesto.
The rooks come back at this time of year, curving in to the top of the tree. They fly away with a whole nut in their great beaks; they always take the same route out - diagonally down the garden and straight out across the moor behind the house. I wonder whether they are burying a stash ready for the winter. Perhaps one day a grove of young walnut trees will rise up through the mist out on the moor - tended and watched over by their rooky gardeners.
Squirrels feast in its branches too. They dart along the willow fence and make a dash for the trunk before the dog notices them. And they dig their treasure into the lawn, carefully memorising the pattern and position of their precious hoard.
How good then, that in this generous harvest there is enough for everybody!