On any given day there are many reasons to walk the farm—discoveries to be made, wildlife to encounter. This time of year, I like to see what is blooming, hear who is singing or fluttering by, check for tracks around the pond. Every day there is a chance for newly arriving, or passing through migrants. The rose-breasted grosbeaks have been around for a few weeks now, hummingbirds are still defensive around the feeders, a black and white warbler stopped in a couple days ago, and a half dozen house finches have joined the goldfinches at the feeder. Gulf fritillaries are finding fall flowers, and a spectacular of array of yellow asters covers the field along with goldenrod. Persimmons and apples are ripe in the trees, and gift me with their delicacy on nearly every walk, while black walnuts and pecans are not ready for dropping just yet.
Yesterday evening, while eating an apple I had just picked en route to the mailbox, I came across a pile of rain-eroded scat at the edge of the driveway. I put on my glasses and knelt down to have a closer look to find that I was not the only one enjoying seasonal fruit these days. Apparently a resident raccoon has been feasting as well—evidenced by the dozen or more persimmon seeds in his excrement—a treasure!
After depositing my letter, I went to the kitchen for a ziplock bag and a paper towel, then headed back to the driveway to collect my newfound seeds. The refrigerator already has several of these bags, and there will be more before the season ends. Every summer I search out native fruit-bearing trees—persimmon and pawpaw—and relish in their sweet offerings. Every year I say to myself, this is the year. This year, I will save these seeds. This year I will plant trees. This year.
Recently, a friend with a few wooded acres south of here granted me permission to grow some trees on his property. The seeds in my refrigerator are experiencing a simulated winter in preparation for planting there. The cold will scarify the seeds, enabling them to germinate. For a minimum of forty days they will chill, hopefully emerging ready to sprout. Some seeds, like many prairie plants, or the lodgepole pines of Yellowstone, are scarified through wildfires. Others, like the cedar trees that sprout along so many fence rows are prepared for germination in the digestive tracts of birds. Pawpaws and Persimmons like the cold.
Chickadees bring a smile to my face with their chatter, but remain out of sight in the canopy as I count twenty-seven shiny brown flat seeds in the scat, each a little smaller in diameter than a dime. One by one, I pick the seeds out of their crumbling encasement and place them on the paper towel. Then I think about the scat and realize it would be a waste to leave that rich fertilizer on the driveway. I gather it as well, carefully picking every last crumble out of the gravel. I fold the towel, insert it in the bag, and label it: “persimmon in raccoon scat 9/26.” Before refrigerating it, I will sprinkle a little water in the bag to keep it moist and seal it shut. Nothing says Autumn like a back of raccoon crap in your refrigerator!
When I am ready to plant my seeds I will record the date they were collected, the time they were refrigerated, and whether or not they were “raccooned.” By keeping those records, I will learn what processing results in the highest rate of germination. If “raccooned” seeds prove more successful than the seeds only refrigerated, I will have more work on my hands next year, but I don’t mind. Searching the woods for raccoon scat sounds like a perfectly lovely October activity to me!
For now, though, I will pick another apple and continue my rounds to see what other autumn treasures reveal themselves.