Ever heard of a “mast year?” I hadn’t until we moved to our cottage on the Eastern Shore. That was June. In early September, it started. Artillery fire. Lying in bed in our loft, with no attic to buffer us, it was like the London blitz—except with acorns. The white oak hanging over our roof let loose with a vengeance. Ba boom, ba boom, all night long, all day long. When the wind picked up, the pings and pongs quadrupled. Acorns falling have a way of sounding like footsteps. A little scary until you figure out it’s vegetable, not animal. But we couldn’t get away from it. And if we went outside, smacks on the head. Every morning we woke to littered decks. What we shoveled up was replaced by more the next day.
The happiest creatures were our resident squirrels. I swear they invited all their long-lost relatives to the feast. We had squatters stuffing their little cheeks. Acorn meat flew out of their mouths as they chomped. They let as much fly in the air as they swallowed. Who could blame them? Even they could see they’d never run out. I half expected to see them lying among the acorn shells in dead bug position, their little bellies bursting, their heads lolling to the side in sated stupor.
So I asked the Extension Service in Snow Hill—what’s going on ? That’s when I heard “mast year” for the first time, and the reasons for it are mysterious. One theory is the oak tree is reacting to intense predation. Intense predation? Who else is living at this address? Another thought is that mast years maximize pollination efficiency. Save up a few years and then: mass fertilization.
What should we expect next year? I’m told this doesn’t happen every year, but it likely will increase the number of animals that snack on acorns. That’s great. Well-fed equals more babies for the squirrels and the mice. Does that also mean a population explosion in the ticks that carry lyme disease? Stay tuned.