November Foragers 2: Potluck and Persimmons by Emma Williams
Have you ever forgotten to bring a dish to a potluck? Usually, it’s ok. Potlucks don’t require 100% participation to be successful. Some people – maybe most people? – bring more than enough. At our last Foragers 2 session, I experienced this both literally and metaphorically.
I’ll start with the metaphor.
Part of the Foragers 2 curriculum was to read The Forest Unseen by David George Haskell, in which the author observed a square meter of the forest every week for a year. Another was to take on a phenology project, choosing something in the natural world to observe weekly. I chose a persimmon tree that my mother-in-law gifted to my husband. We planted in an empty, windy spot atop a hill a few years ago and did not pay enough attention to it. When we started Foragers 2 in February I was not even sure it was still alive; I chose an Eastern redbud tree to observe as a backup.
There are infinite ways to approach this project. I decided to keep a sketchbook of the two trees because this fit with one of my other goals for the year, which was to reconnect with my childhood love of drawing. It started with anxious drawings about whether the tree was even alive:
My hope was that if I paid attention to the persimmon, fertilizing and watering it regularly, it would thrive and bear fruit. What happened was that the tree grew and leafed out robustly, but never fruited.
At the last Foragers 2 session of the year, we retraced our steps from previous sessions, past the spot where we pruned spicebush, to the Hansons’ homestead where we learned about water management composting toilets and observed spring ephemerals. And what was there? A permission tree laden with fruit:
They were sweet, jammy, and crunchy. These were an Asian variety of persimmons, and they are sweeter after a frost; like Keiffer pears, they are best at a time when lots of other plants have gone dormant or to seed.
Then the Hansens’ fluffy dog escorted us across the bridge into the woods; here’s a picture that doesn’t fully capture the cuteness of that moment:
We hiked through the autumnal forest, and then saw a field that was recently planted to become a food forest :
“Come back in 15 years, and see what’s happening,” Lacey suggested.
Then we walked onward and found wild persimmons.
I had not known that American persimmons existed and were native to Maryland until recently when the Forage Maryland Facebook group started buzzing with people trying to find them or confirm that they had found them. Although the ones we found were small, I liked them even better than the cultivated ones. I kept some slightly smashed ones to harvest the seeds. It felt like an appropriate ending to my phenology project to receive persimmons not from my individual effort but from the larger community. It underscored a lot of what we learned this year.
Then we went back to the Dairy Parlor for an actual potluck. I had forgotten that this was happening and only had two small apples and half a chocolate bar, but it was okay because other people prepared delicious food and drinks.
After lunch, everyone presented their phenology projects for the year, each unique and moving. Here’s a quick summary:
- Neil observed a chestnut tree, photographing it over a season in a way reminiscent of The Overstory. (By the way, I wrote about chestnut trees last month.)
- Michael talked about the Learn Your Land online course about tree identification and honed in on black walnuts. He made nocino, a liqueur that was allegedly invented at a congress of witches and has a lot of associated folklore.
- Shayla shared about the Cornelian cherry dogwood, which is in fact a type of dogwood. After being drawn to it, she learned that her parents knew it from their native Azerbaijan.
- Nichole read some exquisite poems that she’d written. One line was, “The world doesn’t need saving. It needs you to pay attention,”
- Maria talked about different birds she’d observed at different times of the year at Gambrill Mill Park. (I loved the idea of an observation that was driven more by listening than by sight.)
- Ruth sang a song she wrote based on her red maple phenology. A recording is on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/Czv1YvMMI7U/
This bulleted list probably does not convey how inspiring the presentations were. Maybe reading one of Nichole’s poems will express it better:
September 6, 2023: Late Summer
Maybe my job now is to witness:
The water stargrass
Overgrown in the too-low water.
The fluttering golden swallowtail
Looking for food in a drought.
The emerald maple tree in my front yard
Fighting off freeze and lanternfly
and my morning worries.
Everything takes on new meaning
When we can taste the ash
of a thousand million trees in our mouths.
Or perhaps, more likely, the meaning that was always there reveals itself in scarcity.
We grasp shreds of abundance when beauty dwindles low
Every bit of hope
Every firefly, every bloodroot bloom, every dogwood shining in the early summer light.
They call to us to witness
To pay attention
And maybe it was our only job, our only meaning the entire time.
When we witness we know that
We are earth embodied, enlivened,
Singing itself into a new becoming.
I see the maple glittering in the summer light
And it is singing its joy into the breeze to finally be seen.
After I got home, I built a chicken wire cage to protect my persimmon tree from deer nibbles. I also planted the wild persimmon seeds in the ground, after internet research suggested they would do best after overwintering in the ground, rather than being started inside. Perhaps someday I’ll be the person with persimmons to share. Check back with me in 5-15 years.
Written by Emma Williams