, green leaves still hold tight to oaks, but walkers in the urban forest crunch acorns underfoot. In some places, the blanket of fallen nuts is so dense, I'd swear I was tromping along a pebble path. A recent article in the Houston Chronicle bore this headline: "Drought May Have Spurred a Deluge of Acorns" and explained the bumper crop. Houston
Locally, oak trees are dropping acorns at five to ten times the normal rate, a phenomenon called a "mast" year. "We often see increased production in mast when we are experiencing drought, especially like the one we had last year," Matthew Weaver, a regional urban forester with the Texas A&M Forest Service, told the Chronicle. "The trees are trying to perpetuate their species so they expend energy in producing their seed."
Because Mother Nature doesn't rachet up squirrels' birth rate to match the acorn surplus, a percentage of this year's nuts won't be consumed—and thus get a chance to grow into mighty oaks—and replace the trees killed by lack of water.
I've had to tweak the images I carry in my mind's eye of drought-stressed trees from the summer of 2011. I still see their wilted, stunted leaves, but now I imagine what's going on beneath the surface. The trees are holding on, doing what has to be done, and preparing for an eventual acorn overdrive.
Like trees, writers endure drought years. For months on end, we may only eke out work--and it may only earn a tepid response. We battle self-doubt, writer's block, and commitments that gobble our writing time. We may have lost an editor or been cut loose by a publisher. Shrinking advances and royalties make us to question ourselves and our writing.
Yet, if we hold on, do what has to be done and keep tapping on the keyboard--even when we have to fight for each word and the time to write it--we set ourselves up for a mast year.
Are mast years predictable? Sadly, no. They don't always follow droughts and may appear two years running then not again for a decade.
That unpredictability confounds a lot of writers, but if oaks weather it, why not us? "Fortune favors the prepared mind," wrote scientist Louis Pasteur, supposedly in reponse to colleagues who dismissed his discovery of pasteurization as pure luck. As long as we keep learning and producing, we'll have something to sell when fortune favors us.
Next time you despair of finishing the work in progress or getting your first or another book deal, go outside and gather acorns. Remember, this year's bounty came from trees that survived on sips of water during a hotter-than-usual summer. When you're tempted to complain that publishing's changing and you can't keep up, think of trees girding themselves for global warming.
Trees and writers that survive hard times will see their efforts bear fruit.