“Green & Brown Acorns”

Green & Brown Acorns, Southeast Utah (c) Mike Utley

When we think of oaks, we tend to envision stately, majestic, robust trees with brawny boughs festooned with squirrels and tree houses. However, the farm on which I was raised in southeastern Utah sported no such giants. Instead, their gnarled, stunted cousins—Gambel oaks—thrived in the arid climate. We called them oak brush or scrub oak, and this species belongs primarily to the Four Corners region of the U.S. (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona). Small copses of this species covered much of the farm, and in the fall their dull brown leaves were the epitome of anti-climax when compared to the canary yellow of the elms and aspens. Brilliant palettes of lichen covered the twisted trunks of these trees that could sink roots even in sandstone. As a kid, I considered them the apotheosis of banality. I mean, it’s pretty pointless to climb a tree that will buckle under your weight, and when you’re a kid, an unscalable tree is a tree without a purpose. All they seemed good for was giving perch to squawking magpies and providing shade for cottontails. But their acorns were little treasures, lustrous green with finely textured cupules that resembled tiny little kilts (a shout-out to my Scottish heritage).

One autumn in the late 1990s, I gathered a couple of handfuls of these green gems, most of which had fallen to the ground and were destined to end up in a magpie’s beak or a squirrel’s belly. They seemed to glow of their own inner light, and I wanted to capture their hues and textures on film. I arranged them in a rusty pie tin on an old splintery wooden bench in the backyard and photographed them beneath an overcast sky to eliminate any harsh contrast. I added a lone brown acorn to the shot to liven things up a bit, placing it near one of the power-points to draw the viewer’s eye. I was pleased with the final result. And an interesting thing occurred… Nearly everyone who viewed this image immediately began interpreting it, all because of that single brown acorn in the corner. “This image is obviously a treatise on life and death…” Or, “This photo speaks to the evils of ageism, where the elderly are being pushed out of society just as the youthful green acorns are shoving the old brown oaknut right out of the frame…” Or, “Racism. This image is all about racism…” And I’d sort of grin and shrug my shoulders. How could I disappoint these folks with the truth? How could I burst their pretentious intellectual bubbles by telling them, “Hey, I just liked the colors and textures, and I stuck the old brown acorn in just for contrast”? To paraphrase Freud, “Sometimes an acorn is just an acorn…” And for those who are wondering, yes, I did pick a few from the branches, but after the image was made, all the acorns were distributed beneath the oaks where the magpies, squirrels and chipmunks would easily find them and deposit them in their larders. (Canon gear, Fuji Velvia ISO 50)

50 thoughts on ““Green & Brown Acorns”

    1. Ouch–that’s harsh punishment for such a natural kid behavior. All the same, I tip my cap to you! I always like to say, “A day without tree-climbing is a day without detention.” Or something. 😀

      Like

  1. Oh, I love it! I’ve never seen green acorns! And I laughed to read those earlier comments the photo garnered. After “Lovely!” and “Wow, green ones!!” my third thought was, “Great contrast!” If I hadn’t been so amazed by beauty and craft and the sharing of it, my 4th thought would surely have been, “Ah, a black sheep — yes!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your enthusiastic comments. 🙂 Green acorns are sort of glorious. They really do seem to glow. Also, acorns can be pretty hard on carburetors (those blasted squirrels on the farm liked to stash their ‘corns in our car motors.) I like the black sheep idea, too. I’ve always felt like a black sheep, and I honestly think there was a subconscious desire to implement this feeling into this photo. So, in a weird way, this is sort of a self-portrait. 😀 Oh well, I’m so glad you found this image pleasing to you. Thanks for the kind words, as always. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Saima.. I’ve been wanting to post this image for a while. I have it set as the main image for my Poetry section but hadn’t written about it yet. I thought I’d better get it posted since it’s autumn and acorns abound! I’m happy you liked it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s what I really like about art: so many different people will have uniquely personal interpretations of an artwork or a shared experience, and all of those interpretations can be valid. What struck me about the people who tried interpreting this image years ago was how earnest and weighted their pronouncements were, how serious their expressions appeared. It was truly intriguing to hear their opinions, even though it was a little bit humorous. I appreciated their comments, too. I could see why they felt the way they did. So, it was a learning experience for me. Anyway, thanks for the kind comment. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, thank you so much! I suppose sometimes I just get in a mood and want to ramble for a bit. I enjoy writing the story part of these posts. It allows me to go back in time and experience those moments when I was in The Zone and everything was quiet and peaceful and hopeful (The Zone being that unique state of heightened concentration and focus, where creation seems so fluid and joyful). These old images make my heart smile and I want to share that, hence the little stories. I’m humbled by your compliment about my writing. Coming from you, it’s extremely high praise, and I appreciate it so much. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. This is a good question. The other night I dug in my files and read a couple of short stories I wrote in my early 20s. Oh boy, talk about cringe! It’s been a long time since I wrote those pieces. I was such a young and naive guy, very little life experience, and writing about heavy themes. Embarrassing stuff. 😀 The last time I attempted to write any prose fiction was 2013. I managed to get 3,244 words before I hit the wall and set it aside. A big problem I had (and still do) with writing is that I generally have no idea where I’m going when I start a story or a poem. I have an image or a word or a phrase or a title in mind, and I just start writing. No road map, no outline. I’ve found that sort of prep work will destroy any chance of even beginning a story for me and I’m not sure why that is. It just kills the creative drive if I already know what’s going to happen. My best writing occurs when I’m simply along for the ride as the story or poem writes itself. So, I have an old writing box full of unfinished tales. I love writing prose fiction. I just find I can’t sustain the concentration levels long enough to finish anything. My depression plays a huge role in this. I got into poetry writing ten years ago because I’m able to finish a piece in one sitting and it’s less mentally exhausting than writing a much longer work. I have an old completed short-story here on my blog if you want to check it out. It’s from 1992 and I suppose its genre could be called “sci-fi cringe” 😀 Here’s the link, if you dare to check it out:

      “Flight of Icarus”

      Honestly, I still hope to be able to write prose again at some point. It requires a different mindset than poetry, in my experience, but it’s really satisfying.

      Like

    1. Thanks a bunch, Xenia. My photo stories usually aren’t as long as this one, but I reckon I was in a talkative mood this morning. I appreciate your kind and supportive appraisal and I’m happy to know you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind comment. For me, it was elms and pinyon pines on the farm where I was raised. Nothing quite like blue jeans covered in pine sap to please your mom on laundry day! 😀

      Like

      1. Thanks a bunch, Aaysid, and no worries–I understood what you meant to say. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. I hope things are good in your part of the world. 🙂

        Like

    1. Many thanks, Cindy. I’m happy to know you liked this post. One fascinating aspect of any type of art is how people interpret a piece. It says a lot about a person’s mindset and biases. and it allows the viewer to be a participant. Fun stuff, indeed. 🙂

      Like

    1. Thanks, Kirsten. Yeah, those green acorns are definitely a delightful shade of green, and their caps are so delicately textured. Thanks for your kind comment and support, as always. 🙂

      Like

  2. That is a beautiful photograph. And yes, sometimes an acorn is just an acorn. But if others wish to find deeper meaning, then let them. I wish the obvious problems in life would be more visible to people. But it seems, they can only see acorns at that time. Lol. Your versatility is admirable, Mike! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Terveen. Yes, I love how different people see different things when looking at a photo or painting or sculpture or any piece of art. It allows the viewer to be a participant, fostering creative engagement regardless of the original intent of the creator. I appreciate your wonderful appraisal as always, and your continued support and encouragement are so welcome. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “…their dull brown leaves were the epitome of anti-climax.” That line made me laugh, Mike. Funny thing is I didn’t even notice the brown acorn. My eye was riveted on the texture of the beautiful green caps. I wonder what that says about me, beyond that I’m simply unobservant. 🙂 A lovely photo and a delightful glimpse into your childhood on the farm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Diana. You’re not the only person who didn’t notice the little brown acorn in the corner. 🙂 I used this image in my greeting cards and calendars I was making at the time. It’s one of my favorite images. The lush green is so life-affirming, and the brown acorn adds a thoughtful counterpoint to the shot. Glad you liked it, my friend! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I think you’re right. In my case, at least, I had to rely a lot more on my eyes due to my deafness, so I had to be more environmentally aware in a visual sense at all times since I couldn’t understand many audio clues. Just noticing little things here and there that many folks don’t notice. 🙂

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s