Of acorns, blue jays, and books

A while back, I wrote about cutting down an oak tree. But what’s cut down must be cut up. So I’ve been spending time with the chain saw and maul to cut the tree into sections and split the sections into fireplace-size chunks.

What I hadn’t sufficiently considered is the fact that oak trees make acorns. This tree had made a great many acorns and they litter the ground where the top of the tree fell. To walk there is like walking on marbles. I’ve tried raking them together, but raking acorns isn’t all that easy. Rakes are designed for leaves.

At this critical moment, I learned somehow that not only do squirrels stash acorns away against the winter, so do blue jays. In fact, experts in the field tell us a single blue jay can store away up to 1000 acorns.

This raises other questions. Like: who did the counting? I picture blue jays discussing with each other why it is that there are those odd people out there with clipboards counting their acorns.

But this in turn leads to the larger philosophical question as to why we count things anyway. I was recently cited for having written “24 books and pamphlets, 19 poems, 30 articles, 16 book reviews, and numerous hymn texts” The numbers are way out of date, but who cares? Why not let “numerous” do for all five categories? I’ve heard of a remote tribe whose numerical skills are confined to “one, two, many.” Isn’t that really enough for most purposes?

I would only add that if you must count, the Japanese have a useful way of doing it. They have a different system for counting round things than that for long things and still another for thin things and another for human beings. Thus elevator floors are counted in the same way as pieces of paper but differently from rubber balls and differently also from pencils or people.

This is useful because my problem in counting books written is to know what is a book. What’s needed is a way to count thick books that is different from thin books, then, when asked how many books I have written, I could say “hachi-mai” or “ju-rokku-mai” and people would know these were not just “books” but thick books, sizeable books, not pamphlets (“ju-ichi-kai”). And if someone wants to count the acorns on my lawn (ippon, nippon, sanbon, etc.) before the blue jays carry them off – why not bring a bushel basket and count them as you drop them in?

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