This blog launched just about a year ago. One of my first posts was about the items that kids valued as currency in the Jemicy woods recess economy: primarily monkey brains (Maclura pomifera fruit), buckeyes (Aesculus flava), bamboo, crystals, garnets, and random human artifacts. The monkey brain and buckeye crops were abundant last fall. Trade was brisk.
Things are different this year. Monkey brains have vanished from our campus, as new construction necessitated the removal of the lone Osage orange tree that stood near the top of the woods. There has been great anticipation of the buckeye harvest, but so far only empty hulls and scattered remains from squirrels feasting on the few fallen nuts have been found. Kids have been bartering valuable stones, bamboo, and a few other goods, but without the standard currencies available, trade lacks its usual frenetic pace.
Some kids have mourned the loss of of the traditional lumpy monkey brain currency, but to my surprise, most have had a more pragmatic response. One older boy shrugged and made a face: “They always rotted after a week and were disgusting.” His buddies agreed: “It was hard to store them. They were too big, and you could see them easily in a fort. Buckeyes are better.” So much for the days when fort wealth was measured in displays of fragrant fruit.
Given the dearth of currency so far this fall, I was surprised last week when a fort of mostly 8 year old boys invited me to come visit and proudly displayed a bag full of buckeyes suspended from their teepee poles. “It’s so the squirrels can’t get them – and it’s working!” they told me. I stared at the bag, baffled. “Yes, but… where did you get all those buckeyes?” I asked. “Since they aren’t really falling yet.”
“Oh, I ordered them from Amazon,” one of the boys said offhandedly. “9 bucks for a bag of 50 buckeyes.” I stared harder at the bag. “They sell buckeyes on Amazon?” I said incredulously. “Yeah, I think they come from Colorado,” he replied. “Or some other state with an O.” I examined the buckeyes more closely. Though dried, they looked nearly identical to the yellow buckeyes (Aesculus flava) found at Jemicy. Maybe Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra)? “And how much are they worth here in the woods?” I asked. “Oh, A LOT, because nobody else has them.” He started to head back down the hill to the stream, then added, “You can also get them on eBay, if you want.” I discovered after further inquiry that his first purchase was made last spring when buckeyes were out of season. The resourceful entrepreneur reasoned that if nature wasn’t providing the goods, then he would.
Importing goods to the woods is not a new phenomenon. For as long as I’ve been observing woods recess, I’ve seen kids who are lucky enough to have an Osage orange or buckeye tree at home supplementing the woods economy. But this is the first time that I’ve heard of someone actually purchasing items that are deemed precious in the woods from a commercial source. I’ve also heard that there is a similar practice in games such as Pokémon, where you can opt to buy online rather than actively hunt for characters, so this may represent a cultural trend making its way into the woods.
This reminded me of the self-serve store that I often passed on a steep, winding pathway in Wellington. I never saw the youngster who established this enterprise, and I always wondered whether it was a success. But kids are endlessly resourceful and optimistic, and probably as long as trees (and online stores) continue to provide nuts and fruit, they will serve as both currency and commodity in someone’s economy.