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McFadyen's Musings: All Trees Die


By Bill McFadyen

After eight solid months of too much rain, it was hard to believe how badly we needed some. Yet when it quit raining in March and the trees starting drinking in April, we quickly transitioned from mud to dust. Standing just outside the garage, I was frying fresh catfish chunks in peanut oil for my son’s guests inside. The southwest sky that I was facing churned from gray to black.

The radar on my phone told me what I already knew from having watched the sky from that very spot for the last 30 years. This storm was going to get us. If the clouds had formed a little to the right, then it might have missed us to the north. When they formed in the gap between the bird feeder and the pasture pines, though, I knew we were getting wet.

This one was coming fast. When the front overtook the backyard, Susanna was in the chicken pen trying to teach the month-olds to go up the ramp and into the new house she had just built them. Apparently, they were the clutch that we had heard about, being too dumb to come out of the rain. By the time Susie ascended on to the back porch, she was drenched, overtaken by the curtain of precipitation. The rainwater was not what drove her inside though. It was the violent gust of wind followed by the sound of trees coming down that inspired her sprinting retreat.

I had had just enough time to get the fryer rolled inside the garage and to get the door down enough to keep the blowing rain out of the hot oil. Down it cascaded, ending the year’s first dry spell.

Several days later, I was putting away the season’s turkey decoys in the Handy House in the lower end of the property, that part of our land that mostly held the world together. It jutted out into a peninsula between one neighbor’s creek and the other’s irrigation pond. It was where I kept the tractor implements and a pyramid of leftover bricks.

The only thing in that part of the property that really intrigued me was the wild persimmon tree. I found it one fall after I had parked the trailer inside the wood line. I had hitched up and pulled forward so as to load the Kubota and bush hog. All over the boards were over-ripe persimmons. Theretofore, I had not noticed this fruit tree swallowed up in that tangle of understory and dominated by one obnoxious, over-reaching sweet gum. To me, that persimmon was like buried treasure.

Granddaddy turned me on to persimmons, like he did to so many other things that foundationally matter to me. He showed them to me during one boyhood September when they were still on the tree, but oranging up like they do. He said that when they got soft, they were the sweetest thing that grew on those sand ridges of his homeplace on what is now Fort Bragg. His family used to make pies with them. He also said fall persimmons (and sweet potatoes) were what they fed to imprisoned possums to “clean them out” and make the meat more fit to eat.

“Don’t eat persimmons until they are soft though,” he warned. “The alum will turn your mouth inside out.” I tested one too early once, and he was right. It was like a dentist’s tube suctioning out all the spit in my mouth.

That gum tree was colossal. My persimmon did not have a chance against it. No amount of strategic cogitating on my part resulted in enough courage to inspire me to cut it. Too many power lines. Too close to other people’s stuff. Too late in my life to muster that much energy voluntarily. So, I just tried to trim a path to the sky on the lower gum limbs such that my persimmon could get its share of sunlight.

I am contributorily negligent in its sudden death, I suppose. By cutting a path for it to the sky, it leaned too much to sustain itself against that first blast of summer storm, the one that drove Susanna out of the chicken pen and my deep fryer into the garage. The crack that she had heard behind her was my persimmon. I found it on that subsequent trip to back of the property. It had snapped off about seven feet from ground level. It lay dying in the open space for which it had been reaching. Its ending came quickly.

I have been growing fruit for myself (and hopefully for you) in this periodical for almost seven years. I started right after its publisher wrote an article about my Dad’s funeral. I
asked Ashlee Cleveland if I could try my hand at an article. She was pleased to let me try. It was called “Not As Big As It Used To Be.” It was a story about taking my son to Vanstory
School, where I had attended as a boy. The school seemed miniscule to what it was in my memory.

That little boy graduated high school in late May this year. I found that I had repeated the same story of his entering the school in my “The Last Boy” article. In my mind this week,
I was pretty certain that I heard a valuable tree crack and tumble to the ground. I think the fruit of my pen was often eaten at its sweetest, though it did turn a few mouths inside out. I find today that I have said what I came to say on the CityView tree of fruit. Susie and I bought a tract of land recently. It has farm fields and creek banks and wild turkey and even a waterfall. My good pal David Stewart and I were doing a walk about recently, when we found a pile of persimmon pits on the field edge.

We both knew what it meant. A fox or a possum or such had eaten the fallen fruit and the travel route of the pits through the alimentary canal culminated on that field edge. David said, “They are still fertile after they pass through, you know.” David is a Doctor of General Practitioning. Who was I to dispute the veracity of his biological opinion? I pocketed nine of them.

Four sprouted in plastic pots. Today, I am pondering their future placement on the farm. All trees die at some point. Along the way, they hopefully drop a few seeds that sprout
perpetuation. Something worthwhile left behind. Something for which to gaze forward. Germination and passage through the understory is a process. We’ll see. For today,
though, I thank you deeply for having walked with me these seven years along the trails of my memory.

Bill McFadyen can be reached at propertybill@nc.rr.com.