A Persimmon Biography
The last of the fall leaves on my persimmon tree dropped. This is what it looked like when it was in all its autumnal glory. I bought it two years ago at the neighborhood nursery. It was a skinny sapling of twigs with three persimmons hanging from the branches.
I left the fruit on the tree because it’s just a pretty sight. But once the fruit became ripe, every morning for a week, three species of birds fought over the spoils. There was a bullying crow, a pair of loud plovers or some kind of whitish bird, and a smattering of tiny songbirds that pecked at what it could from the ground. You’d think that it would be beautiful to have birds eat from your persimmon tree. But in fact it sounded like an avian riot at a heavy metal concert. It was vicious. And the balcony was a mess after each feasting.
The year after, the tree was afflicted by some white wormy scales. It didn’t have a chance. The leaves barely matured. I tried to remove them by hand, squeezing them, which left my fingers stained with a deep purple. I later found out that they were actually the insects cultivated in Mexico to produce indigo dye. Near one of the universities where I teach, there was a grove of persimmons, all afflicted by the same pest. So it must have been a nation-wide epidemic. In grocery stores, persimmons are a lot more plentiful and cheaper this year than last year.
This year, the foliage spread out nicely. So nice that somehow caterpillars found their way up to my 8th floor balcony and began eating the juicy leaves. I didn’t mind them. They were easy to remove. Unfortunately, the tree didn’t fruit this year. I was hoping that it would cross-pollinate with the big persimmon tree near the base of my apartment building. But the tiny white flowers never opened properly.
I have a special relationship with persimmon trees. I planted several in my yard at my old house. They were the fastest growing trees in my orchard. In the spring, the leaves are delicately pale green. In the summer, it provides shade with pleasing broad dark green leaves. In the autumn, the leaves turn a deep warm orange as you can see above. Then one morning in early winter, the leaves suddenly drop all at once, exposing bright orange-colored persimmons dangling like Christmas ornaments.
My dad told me how in post-war Korea, he had vivid memories of eating persimmons from the neighborhood trees when he was a kid. I never could visualize that image until I came to Japan, where persimmon trees are as common as apple trees in the Northwest. And they are huge. A mature persimmon, filled with hundreds of little round suns is a sight to behold.
Soon after I wrote this post my dad sent me this email:
We had around 10 persimmon trees in the yard. And there was a little tiny stream that flowed right next to the house. They produced the biggest persimmons in the village. It was your grandmother’s parent’s home. There was a persimmon tree near the well which was as old as I was. It was planted by your great grandfather on the occasion of the birth of his first grandson, me. I was born in that house, Aunt Jung Hee, and Uncle No Kyung, too.Jung Hee and No Kyung couldn’t find the old house since the city was developed and the various city plan changes changed everything. Well, it was fifty/sixty years ago.Your writing on persimmons reminded me of those good days. I was a shy kid , but a good story teller.Love, dad