Thursday, November 22, 2012

Fall at the Horse Meadow

When the days got short and the nights crisp, the animals came to the horse meadow. Mostly they came to eat the persimmons off the tree. Long retired to the meadow, the horse shared his only tree because he wanted to watch the visitors.

The raccoons came at night. Once when it was raining, they came during the day as if the raindrops hid their bandit ways. The mama raccoon led the parade with her back rolling up
and down. She headed straight from the forested side of the fence to the exposed persimmon tree. Three black-faced kits followed her nose-to-tail when they first entered the open area, but then they scrambled aside to inspect a gopher mound, and soon they were cuffing each other and rolling in the dirt capsules and bits of broken pottery brought up by the gophers after every rainstorm. At a snarl from their mother, they tumbled back into line when a car went by on the country road.

The raccoons swarmed up the tree and spread out to different branches to get the choicest persimmons -  those that had ripened but not fallen and were not chewed by other animals. As the harvest nights went by and there were less persimmons to choose from, the mama raccoon nudged the lighter kits farther out on the branch tips.They gripped the bent branch with three dark hands, and with long black fingers of the last hand swatted at the dangling globe until it fell to the ground where it was pounced on by one of the other kits. At least once a night, a kit fell from the tree with a soft thunk and then bubbly purring started up from under and in the tree until the little one scrabbled back up and into the family’s designated position.

Dark-eyed junco
Many types of birds came to the persimmon tree during the day. Their colors flashed across the canopy as one raucous flock replaced another. The stellar jays landed on outer branches, stabilized and then leaned over to peck away at any fruit that had the slightest yellow color. Eventually, they excavated a tunnel in the fruit and their heads appeared as silhouettes inside the newly translucent skin. Downy woodpeckers would slip into denser parts of the canopy and peck at shorter-stemmed fruit near their feet. Yellow-rumped warblers risked a quick dash for a few bites from a split-open persimmon before the jays screamed and chased them away again. Even hummingbirds hovered by ripe persimmons and buzzed forward to swab up some of the dripping flesh with their long bills. 

Hummingbird at the persimmon tree
The ravens, now in tight formations of twos or threes, liked to fly over the persimmon tree at midday when their shadows would alarm all the smaller birds. One of the shiny ravens would sometimes execute a roll when it flew over the persimmon tree as if to add a flourish to the feathered panic it was causing.

Red-breasted sapsucker 
Every fall, a single red-breasted sapsucker would land in the persimmon tree and loudly announce its arrival at the feast. The horse never saw or heard red-breasted sapsuckers at any other time of the year. And there was always just one sapsucker. Years ago when there was also an apple tree in the meadow, the sapsucker would end each persimmon meal by drumming a round of holes around the apple tree’s trunk as if to clean its bill from the sticky fruit. Circles of bright yellow dots stood out on the trunk above or below the brown circles from previous years. Then the farmer noticed the old apple tree was no longer bearing fruit, and he cut it down to sell the fragrant wood. After its first persimmon meal the next fall, the red-breasted sapsucker drilled on the softer bark of a buckeye tree on the edge of the forest, but somehow, that didn’t seem satisfying and then it took to tearing off strips of buckeye bark instead. The next year and every year after that, a red-breasted sapsucker returned but stuck to just eating persimmons, and if it was the same woodpecker, it stopped punishing the buckeye trunk for the abandonment of the apple tree.

The does brought their fawns that had survived the summer to taste persimmons for the first time. The fawns had lost their spots. As they wandered farther from the doe, they met other family groups under the persimmon tree and bumped the sides of neighbor fawns or played tag with the yearling does that had rejoined the matriarchal herd. Adventurous in the changing landscape, they tasted everything, wet shrubs, fence posts, bits of blown litter, falling leaves, but mostly they watched the does to see what was best to eat. The does gracefully nosed a fallen persimmon, opened their long narrow mouths to bite into its wide girth and lifted the orb to shoulder height where they chomped and swallowed with juice running down their furred chin and orange pieces falling out to the sides. At first, the fawns couldn’t get their little mouths around a whole persimmon and they chased it round and round on the ground. Eventually they either snacked on the bits falling out of the does’ mouths, or they found mushy persimmons that were easy to bite into. As the fawns got the hang of eating fallen persimmons, the does stood up on their hind legs to pick fruit from the tree branches and a mouthful of leaves too.

Black-tailed deer at night
The bucks didn’t eat this time of year. Mostly they followed the does at a distance, pulled back their lips to get a better taste of the air, and sniffed the ground where the does had urinated or marked the soil with the glands between their hooves. The big buck pretended to browse on the grass when another buck came around, but with each clip of dry grass, he angled in the direction of the other buck and gradually pushed him away from the feasting does. Only occasionally did one buck charge the other and there was a brief clacking of antlers before the smaller one unhooked, stepped to the side and then swiftly jumped the fence and ran towards the forest. All the does watched and kept chewing and spewing out bits of persimmon.

The horse rarely saw the coyote but he knew it was visiting the persimmon tree. It must be sneaking into the meadow at dusk or dawn while the horse was dozing. But it always left its calling cards - scat packed with bright orange persimmon skin, and paw prints with nail marks and belly rubs in the muddy path where it slipped under the barbwire fence from the direction of the farmhouse. The horse vaguely remembered hearing the ranch dogs barking at night; perhaps the coyote was teasing them about its own omnivore diet while they were chained to buildings and packaged food.

Coyote sneaking down a persimmon
The horse ate as many persimmons as he wanted off the ground during the day. He kept the persimmon tree well trimmed during the summer so that there were more branch tips to produce fruit in the fall. Persimmons were his second favorite fall harvest. A few weeks ago, the farmer dumped a load of straw bales from his flat wagon. Those bales always smelled of denim and were littered with bits of candy wrappers. That was his favorite fall taste because it never changed and reminded him of his mother biting loose the cord on the bales when he was a young colt to release the pressed and faded green leaves in the center as the bales split open. But he also liked the persimmons for the special reason that every year they brought so many animal visitors who shared the plentiful orange fruit from the single tree in his meadow.

This story started out as a One-Hour Story.  A One-Hour Story is when you sit down with an idea in mind and you write as fast and as much as you can in one hour.  When the timer goes off, you stop and see what you've got.  The idea is to write without inhibition and get those ideas and words flowing. If you like what you've started, you can come back to it later and develop it some more. I originally wrote this One-Hour Story for my niece on her birthday last fall. Yesterday, while rolling pie dough for the family Thanksgiving dinner, I was watching the birds in the persimmon tree and remembered this story.  I pulled it out, revised and wrote some more and here it is. Happy Thanksgiving.


  1. Good stuff. You may find this blog post of mine from 2 years ago inspiring for a follow-up next year. :)

  2. Wow, randomtruth, that's a cool sky cam you got in the apple tree. I'm trying that next.

  3. Excellent Thanksgiving post! And thank you for this blog -- I love it [and randomtruth's, too].


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