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This is the year of the persimmon

I have come to accept this about nature: Nothing she has to offer one year is guaranteed the next. The sap may run strong one spring, then ping and dribble inconsequentially into our pails another. Winged maple seeds may cascade en masse from the tree shading the farmhouse or flutter down so sparsely that each little spiraling helicopter bears notice.

Walnuts have lean years and good ones - when our log cabin's metal roof beats like a drum under its trees. The past few falls have been stingy with persimmons. This year, the sweet ochre treats are everywhere. Eat them before their time, and your mouth puckers like a drawstring purse. Wait until they drop, and there is no questioning perfection.

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We've watched over the past month as the two persimmons in front of the farmhouse began to sag under the coming harvest. Individual branches became so laden the trees took on the skirted look of weeping willows. The weather held perfectly for the slow ripening, and we spread tarps just in time. For the past two weeks, I've satiated myself, the goat, the draft horses, and the neighbors with the sweet, mealy snack of autumn.

Cynthia, our nanny (with eye contact to beat the band), puts a bead on me from the moment I begin to scoop up the night's drops. Twenty or so persimmons later, she folds down in a sunny corner of her grazing paddock, the tawny embodiment of bliss. The damaged fruits (how can I not step on them?) go to the chickens, which scrap and tug-of-war over juicy bits of pulp. I drag tarps full of fallen persimmons to the barn and mix them with feed for our draft horses. Ben and Jim mouth it all down in record time, their big lips moving like prehensile vacuums over the feed trays.

Another tree far back in the pasture ripens later than the pair in the farmyard. When it's ready, about the time the leaves peak, the cows and raccoons will have their turns. I'll gather up another gallon or two for the kitchen. The pulp freezes well for cooking later in the year: Here in Indiana, Thanksgiving and persimmon pudding go hand in hand.

Like the animals, though, I love to down the fruit just as it is, and I only have to step out the door and bend over to do it. This year, I could find a handful of persimmons with one sweep of my arm, blindfolded.

The trouble is, I'd still feel Cynthia's soft oval eyes tracing my every move.


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