The other day while I was raking leaves beneath our black walnut tree — and picking up scads of fallen walnuts— guess what happened? Ker-plunk!
Took one right on the melon.
It hurt, but I survived. Most people survive falling-walnut syndrome. Still, I should have known better. There I was directly under the nut-bearing tree, bent over, picking up walnuts that were the size and heft of a lacrosse ball. The tree is more than 60 feet tall.
We humans are good at rushing in where angels fear to tread.
Besides, this wasn’t my first rodeo with falling nuts. When my wife and I and our then teenage son sojourned in Belize decades ago, we matriculated at “Coconut College.” Our helpful guide and professor, named King, was the leader of our sortie into wild places. He enlightened us, and our fellow travelers, about the coconut: what it is good for, and what it is not so good for.
My nuclear family nearly flunked out. Before graduation, he approached us and in no uncertain terms told us to stop what we were doing—immediately.
We were pitching our tents directly under a resplendent coconut tree. We figured it would provide some shade as well as protection from tropical showers. To emphasize his point, King picked up a nearby coconut lying in the sand and tossed it to me. My knees buckled as I caught it.
Yes, my fellow Americans, believe it or not: coconuts kill.
Add them to the list of things to fear, or at least be wary of. Are you worried about sharks? Forget about them! Sharks kill a measly 10 humans a year worldwide.
Bears? You can count the annual human fatalities in the United States and Canada with one hand tied behind you back.
But, believe it or not, roughly 150 people a year die from being plunked by coconuts. Ouch! And countless tents have been ruined, too.
Of course, not many of us nowadays are traveling to places with flourishing coconut trees. Still, there are many things to fear right here at home. You can probably think of at least one.
Here are some other scary fates to avoid as we tread this mortal coil.
Vending machines: have you ever rocked, shook, kicked or punched one to liberate a hanging Twix bar? While they appear to be inanimate objects, vending machines have been known to fight back. They squish to death about a dozen angry homo sapiens a year.
Champagne corks: Twenty-four people are killed each year by popped corks, most often at weddings.
Selfies: my fellow primates, heal thyselves. More people (about a dozen a year) perish from taking selfies than succumb to sharks bites.
Armed toddlers: yes, these little Dickens’s somehow get their hands on loaded handguns, or rifles, and kill more than 20 people a year. Talk about your terrible twos.
Joseph Stalin, who knew about such things, once said, “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”
COVID-19: America is first with more than 221,083 deaths so far.
Climate Change: The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that rising temperatures and their side effects are responsible for 150,000 deaths every year now. That number is expected to grow. There is no vaccine for a warming world.
There are precious few things that unite us in these fractious times. Here’s one: we are all standing in harm’s way; and we should know better.
David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.