Knock, Knock: It’s a Persimmon

It’s funny how little it takes to trigger a memory.  One little event, and a whole lot of recollections.  I love it.

My wife and I were out hiking early this past Sunday morning.  I was checking out a trail where I’m soon going to be leading a kids’ hike.  I haven’t been there in a while, and I like to prepare by checking out the lay of the land so I’m not just winging it.

As we started, I saw the leaves of a tree that I recognized but couldn’t identify.  The name was right there, floating around my brain, but just out of reach.  As we walked, I saw that type of tree a few more times, but just couldn’t figure it out.  I snapped a few pictures, intending to look it up when I got back home.

We were more than half-way through the trail when I saw the leaves yet again, but this time on a mature tree.  Mature enough to have recognizable bark.  Recognizable bark that instantly told me the once-elusive name of that tree: It was a persimmon. 

If Sunday’s hike was a movie, the landscape would have started to swirl around me, the wind would have whipped up, the sky would have darkened, and then everything would have been bathed in cloud-filtered sunlight.  Oh, and it would have been a lot cooler.  February cool, instead of July hot.  I would have left where I was standing on a trail just south of Huntsville and been taken back to Lake Guntersville State Park some nine years earlier.

Nine years earlier, when I wasn’t doing things like preparing to lead a kids’ hike.  Nine years earlier, when I wasn’t involved with environmental education at all.

So, to back up just a little bit further than nine years, this story all started with an email.  It was one of those “all employee” emails that move around a school district, and this one caught my eye because it actually interested me.  It was giving information about the annual conference of the Environmental Education Association of Alabama (EEAA).  Couldn’t say I’d ever heard of such an organization, but I was curious.  Truthfully, I was intrigued because it was an opportunity to go to a conference that I actually had a shot at attending, given that our school had just started an outdoor classroom.

A few exchanged emails, a bit of paperwork, a purchase order, and three of my friends–I mean, fellow teachers–and I were on our way.

Now, none of us had ever been to something like this, and we didn’t know what to expect.  Environmental education…what was that?  It was a three-day conference, and on the second day I learned what a persimmon tree looked like, but that wasn’t the memory that made me smile this past Sunday.  Nope, it was the first evening that came flooding back to me.  The persimmon tree was just the trigger.

We had pulled into the lodge parking lot sometime around late afternoon, and while there were signs directing us to the registration area, we still had that “not sure what’s going on” look about us.  As would be expected, a few inquiries took us to the registration table.  We were given a warm welcome, we got settled into our rooms, and soon we were seated in a largish conference room with 80 or so other people.

The four of us sat off to the side, a little more than half-way back from the front.  Not quite the back pew, but you get the idea.  The speaker, whose name escapes me, was giving a presentation on a research expedition in which he had recently taken part.  The group was searching the swamps of Louisiana near the Gulf Coast, looking for signs of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

As a quick aside, the last verified sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker was in the 1940s.  The bird has a distinct knock, however, and while there hasn’t been a sighting in decades, there have been enough “hearings” that they’ve not yet been declared extinct.

The knock–two quick raps–is what got the ball rolling that night.  Two quick raps.  Now, the ivory-billed woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world at around 20 inches long with a 30 inch wingspan, so those are two substantial knocks.

Go ahead, try it: Two hard knocks on whatever wood is available.  I’ll wait. 

That’s what everyone wanted to do that night. They wanted to try it, and they did. 

So, the four of us were sitting there, surrounded by the growing sounds of people knocking on their tables.  Then it got better, as folks started comparing the knocking of the ivory-billed woodpecker to other species. We heard the rapid, longer, steady pattern of the pileated woodpecker and the slower, shorter pattern of the small downy woodpecker.  We heard the Morse code of the yellow bellied sapsucker and the rapid-fire machine gun of the hairy woodpecker.

By now, the speaker had both lost the audience and found a sidebar conversation himself.  Things quickly progressed to bird calls, songs, and other vocalizations.  

Folks, things were getting kinda scary for the four of us.  It was loud, and on the verge of growing frenetic.  All the while we were enjoying the ride and politely laughing along with many of the other participants.  Well, our laughter started politely and then grew more raucous along with everyone else’s.

That’s what I remembered as my mind settled on “persimmon” the other day.  That was my memory.  The knocking, the bird calls, and the laughter.

Since I started this story with preparing for a hike, the conference obviously made an impression.  Within a few years, two of the four of us were serving on the board of EEAA, and community environmental education is something I now do both personally and professionally as an elementary grade teacher.

Be careful: You never know where opening an email might lead.

If you’re curious, here’s a picture of the bark of a persimmon tree. You can probably see why I was able to recognize it.

Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Common_Persimmon_Bark.jpg

14 thoughts on “Knock, Knock: It’s a Persimmon

  1. Your writing made me think.There is so much in nature that I love, and it so calming and reviving in its effect… and speaks to me of the greatness of God through His creation. But there is so much I could not name if I were asked, so many interesting things still to learn. I had what I consider a good education, but environmental education was not a big part of it. I think that’s largely true for most students, still.

    Maybe you can add writing nonfiction for students to your writing. I have recently seen a workshop being offered on just that topic… it comes up in your writing already… maybe you have a picture book or chapter book waiting to emerge…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments, Diane. I love being out there, enjoying His creation. I love sharing it with kids just as much. I’ll have to check out that workshop–thank you for telling me about it!

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  2. I was so afraid you were building to tasting a persimmon before the frost … that is a a story my dad told me; apparently his mouth turned inside out (and nearly did again on the retelling!). But of course in February that would not be the case …what a fun and enchanting, if raucous, memory! I could hear the woodpecker at my grandfather’s pecan tree as I read … I think it was a red-bellied.

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  3. There is so much fun and brightness in this post. I couldn’t help but smile at the knocking scene and the forgetting of the tree name. Thanks for this uplifting story.

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  4. Ahh, Tim! I love this post! There is so much I can relate to in it – having come from being a nurse 30 years ago to the environmental educator I am today! Both connected since I’ve always worked with children! But, the fun part of your post is what got me the most! I can envision the participants all knocking and then with increasing intensity trying for different sounds, calls, and vocalizations! What a fun time – especially because you became comfortable enough to join in! I think the knocking activity to mimic the calls would be a great activity for kids. I have learned so much about trees in the last year and one of my new fav’s is the hackberry – it has unusual bark too! Good luck with your hike! I am sure it will be great!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a fun post to write because of the memories; it really was an incredible event. Many of the people who were there are good friends of mine now, and it was all because of that email. My hike was actually this morning, and it did go well. As coincidence would have it, there was a good-sized hackberry tree that we explored today!

      Are you familiar with the Leopold Education Project? Their lesson material has an activity in which each participant or group has a bird call that imitate. The activity goes by time and is designed around the section of his Sand County Almanac in which he talks about how different birds “wake up” at different times of the morning. It’s a lot of fun and a big hit with groups of all ages.

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      1. I am familiar with the Leopold Education Project. I am not familiar with that lesson, however. I will have to look it up. I bought my own copy of Leopold’s Sand County Almanac a month or so ago. I am ashamed to say that I have not made much time to read it. Despite having a degree in EE, my program (based in WI) did not require us to read this book. I thought that I really should read it in its entirety – not just the passages they had us comment on in school. I look forward to looking at that lesson! Thanks!

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      2. It’s a good book. Not one to gush over, but a solid treatise on being outdoors. One of his ideas that has always stuck with me is that we can’t love what we don’t know. He’s got a great quote in there, but I’m terrible with quotes. I think you’ll enjoy the book.

        The bird activity is a wonderful one–I think you’ll love it!

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  5. I’m up early reading slice of life posts and listening to the birds all around my backyard. Interestingly, a pileated woodpecker was knocking on the side of our house this morning. It’s not the most desirable place for him to knock but it did create a funny “soundtrack” as I was reading this post. He likes to wake us up early a few times per week.

    Liked by 2 people

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