There is a Persimmon tree that grows at the point of the ridge on my families land. An American Persimmon (Diosporos virginiana) gnarled and old, the largest one, in fact, that I have ever seen.
You might be more familiar with Asian Persimmons for sale at the grocery; luminous spice-orange fruits about the size of an apple, like the ones pictured below. I’ve never eaten this variety, and don’t even know how to tell when they are ripe.
American Persimmons, though, those I know. Those I can tell you a little about.
American Persimmons are ripe once a killing frost has come and they have fallen from the tree, shrivelled and soft like a pudding held in a sack. They are usually ripe right around Thanksgiving, during the height of the deer rut and the middle of deer hunting season, when Orion has risen in the evening sky and the green of the world has withered and given way to the currents of the Dark Half of the Year.
The American Persimmon is a tree of the hedgerow, the Underworld, the Witch.
If Persephone had been a native of the Midwestern U.S., maybe she would have dined on some to seal her contract with the King Below.
The fruits (for all that I have made them sound dire) are in fact quite tasty, with a custard like texture and a flavor similar to pumkin pie spice. You can make them into bread, or pudding, or just pick them straight from the cold ground – if the deer and racoons and possums haven’t gotten them all first.
The fruits contain several large flat seeds which can be used to fortell the harshness and conditions of the approaching winter. On this day, though, I hadn’t come to the tree for divination. I was looking for a piece of wood.
My intention was to gather a piece of fallen wood to use for a handle for a fan- a fan made of the salt cured wing of a black hen. Fallen wood, because the tree is old and getting frail, and I didn’t want to weaken it further by cutting living wood away.
Dead wood, dead bones, which had fallen to the ground for plucking like the ripened fruits.
I had intended to go into trance before Thanksgiving day, the day of my drive down to my mom’s house, the house (and land) where I grew up. I was going to light incense and veil my face, do it official-like. I needed to ask the tree if I could take a piece of wood, and what gift I should offer in return.
Instead, I found myself idly thinking about the tree a few days before Thanksgiving as I sat in the shower after a long day at work with hot water streaming over my head. When I opened my mouth water would trickle in, and I spat it out like a fish.
My soap smelled like myrrh and frankincense.
An image of the tree, sentinel on the point of the ridge, rose in my mind. I concentrated on this scene until it grew sharp and present. I greeted the tree, introduced myself as one who once knew it. I asked if I could take a piece of fallen wood when I visited in the flesh. I explained what wanted it for, I spoke of who I was. I asked the tree what offering would be best to give it in return for it’s gift?
The answer came immediate and crystal clear: Blood, blood, blood.
I intended to take a needle with me with which to prick my thumb, but in the rush of holiday preperations I forgot. Thanksgiving afternoon, as I walked out to the tree with two friends (guests that day at my families table) I wondered how I’d let it. One friend had a knife, perhaps a prick of the very tip? No matter. I’d think of something.
As we approached the tree across a tangled yellow meadow under overcast skies, an owl flew silently out of the tall pines and swooped in front of us, pursued quickly by three crows.
I needn’t have worried about a way to draw blood after all. Around the trunk of the old Persimmon grew canes of wild rose- I had to gingerly navigate through them as I searched in the brown, overgrown grass for fallen boughs. The thorns raked my legs through denim.
Much of the downed wood was rotted and soft, but after a fair bit of looking I found a sound piece that was just the right shape and size. I pushed my thumb upon a sharp rose thorn (growing next to a young catbriar vine, which is an even more viciously bristled plant) and dabbed the bead of blood on a patch of naked wood near the base of the Persimmons trunk, where the ancient bark had flaked away.
I thanked the tree for its gift, and bid it strength.
I also found one perfect ripe fruit, orange and hel-bloomed, half buried in the wet grass, and my friends and I shared it. They had never had Persimmon before, and were pleasantly surprised by its strange spice laced taste.
Then we walked back to the house, to a warm fire and food.