Sweating and dizzy from stuffing numerous baggies with acorns, I looked around to discover that Matthew had disappeared. I called. He didn’t answer. Thinking that he probably had gone back to the house, I wandered up that way. At the palatial front door, I pulled on the door handle and walked right in, coming face-to-face with a tall, sparkly-eyed young woman in her thirties who turned out to be a poet in the Ole Miss graduate program. I asked her if she had seen my nephew; she hadn’t. Soon we struck up a conversation. I revealed to her my mission, which delighted her to no end. She started writing down names of garden consultants and natural historians associated with Rowan Oak who knew infinitely more about the trees than she did. And as she was writing, I happened to mention our tire plight. She didn’t hesitate and got right on her cell phone and called up her boyfriend, who, she then informed me, was coming right over to fix it himself. And right at that moment, Matthew entered the house holding a light-green, softball-sized version of a human brain.
The Osage orange is one of nature’s most bizarre products. The heavy, waxy fruit is full of milky sacs; its only use today is as an insect repellent, but back in 1934, President Roosevelt used the tree almost exclusively in his “Great Plains Shelterbelt” WPA project to help prevent soil erosion after the Dustbowl, because the hearty trees offer an excellent windbreak. And because of their thorns, Texas ranchers used them along their property lines to keep cattle penned in before the advent of barbed wire. Indians liked to make bows and clubs out of the sturdy, elastic wood.
Holding the Osage orange in his hand as if it were Faulkner’s pickled brain, Matthew and I took a house tour.