Picture of single persimmon on a branch - backlit

Persimmon Jim: The Possum

Chapter 10
by Joseph Wharton Lippincott, 1924

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Persimmon Jim: The Possum  Intro    |    Preface    |    Ch. 1    |    Ch. 2    |    Ch. 3    |    Ch. 4    |    Ch. 5    |    Ch. 6    |    Ch. 7    |
                                              Ch. 8    |   
Ch. 9    |    Ch. 10    |    Ch. 11    |    Ch. 12    |    Ch. 13    |    Ch. 14    |    Ch. 15  |

Chapter 10: 'Simmon Time

August passed and September came.

The weather grew cooler but the woods were still full of food. Indeed, when the wind blew it sometimes almost rained acorns. The little 'possum had grown amazingly, and now followed faithful Jim about, eating what he ate and learning the ways of the woods. For some reason he was not especially healthy and so never looked as sleek and neat as the old 'possum, but he was a wise young fellow, which fact counted for much.

When the leaves commence to fall the animals which have grown up through the summer begin to be thinned out by hawks, owls and other enemies. The birds for the most part then move south; but there is a time in September when the wild life in the woods is at its height, when every tree and every inch of ground seem peopled. The nights are cool, but the first killing frosts have not come. Katy-dids still call in the tree tops, crickets chirp, the tree frog pipes in the evenings. Migrating birds of smaller species chirrup and sing all day; not songs of love such as come from their throats in springtime, but happy tuneful snatches.

This is the beginning of harvest time for the wild creatures who expect to live in the north through the cold winter; the great nut crop is at hand. Everywhere is bustle and work. Gray Squirrel makes twenty or more trips a day from the white oak tree, where the sweet acorns grow, to a stretch of soft ground near Goose Creek where he buries the nuts for safe keeping. Red Squirrel is cutting walnuts and chiselling off their outer covering, so that they can be stuck into crotches of remote limbs, out of reach of possible thieves. The woodpeckers are busy hiding acorns. Groundhackie has his underground storeroom half full, while Whitefoot has collected two little piles of cherry stones, beechnuts and acorns. Coon, Striped Coat and the 'possums are eating all they can and storing on their bodies a thick layer of fat to be absorbed as nutriment in the cold, barren months to come.

Then one day comes a rain, followed by a high cold wind which dies down at night leaving a chilliness that seems to settle on all the fields and especially on the low places, in the form of a frost blanket. Jim takes a look at it and then goes back to his bed.  He knows that nights more pleasant are coming. The frost is just what is needed to ripen the nuts; now indeed is the harvest on. But the leaves begin to drift down, making some of the limbs bare. The first days of October bring more high winds and more cold, and then all at once the last nuts have fallen; the harvest must shift to the ground.

Jim's sensitive nose had told him unerringly when and where to hunt for each crop as it ripened. He could not eat the hard walnuts and the hickories, but he feasted on the wild apples, the acorns, the chestnuts from the unblighted trees, and the peanuts he dug up in Ben Slown's field. With him always trailed the young one. But one night Jim sniffed longer than usual. There was a new scent in the gently stirring air; it led in an unusual direction for the 'possum -towards the chicken farms near the lower end of the Valley. Here along the edge of the woods grew some small trees with whitish limbs and many little round reddish-yellow fruits on all the twigs-persimmon time had come!

Jim climbed the first tree and began feeling and smelling the persimmons; after him came the young one, all afire to eat the fruit. The youngster seized a large one and crunched it down, then reached for another but did not pick it after all. Something had puckered up his mouth so badly he could scarcely taste or swallow. He had had his lesson in unripe persimmons; one was enough.

But Jim continued to smell and feel them until the breeze told him that a tree further away from the woods contained riper fruit.  Then he climbed down and went to try the other tree. Here the persimmons on the outer twigs were luscious. He pulled them to him and ate right and left and over him and under him, until he nearly fell off the bending limb.

That night Jim was too full to travel all the way back to one of his usual dens; persimmons were his one great weakness and this the beginning of a real spree. So he and the young one moved for the day to a wood-pile near by and curled up underneath it for a wonderful sleep. And as nothing came to disturb them they thought it a grand place and after another night of feasting returned to it.

On the third night a strange 'possum appeared. She came out on Jim's limb and bent it so with her added weight that she nearly threw him off. He was taken by surprise but just in time growled a warning which made her hesitate and gave him time
to catch his balance. This was a bad start for anything like friendliness and Jim never trusted her anywhere near him. But now, curiosity satisfied, she did not care about him and preferred to pick out limbs of her own.

Two more nights of feasting and then even Jim's love for persimmons gave out; he needed a change of diet. So he left the young one in the tree and wandered around the farms picking up scraps and eating sweet potatoes. He was chased hard by a nosey fox terrier and, after reaching a fence, which he knew he could climb if necessary, turned on the dog and gave it the best bite it had ever felt in its young life.

But Jim, although sometimes reckless in persimmon time, was not one to do anything very foolish. Before morning he was back at the wood-pile and, not entirely satisfied with it this time, had changed to a stump further in the woods. This move saved his life and that of the young one, for a farmer came around the field that day, saw signs of 'possums about the persimmon trees and, finding some long white hairs in the woodpile, tore it down. He was greatly disappointed to find the animals gone. Seeing plenty of persimmons still in the trees he knew that they would return sooner or later and so decided to fetch Ed Johnson for a night hunt with his hound.

If Jim had not been persimmon mad he would have left the vicinity when he found that the wood-pile den had been opened up by a man. Only too well he knew this meant some kind of further danger for him.  But the fruit was at its best, sweet, juicy, soft. It almost slipped down his throat, seeds and all, without the effort of swallowing. And there were no other persimmon trees in the Valley! So all night he and the young one and the stranger feasted and sat about and then feasted some more. And the persimmons grew fewer and fewer on the limbs, and what fell off were promptly eaten by Gray Fox and his mate who turned in time for some of the fun.

Just before daylight, when Jim was up one of the trees ror the last time, the attack came. He heard a thumping of running animals on hard ground, a whining and yelping, and saw underneath the tree old Banjo, with Ben Slown's mongrel and a little dog belonging to Sam Collins. At that moment they saw him too and broke into wild baying. No chance now to run.  Jim was "treed."

...continue to Chapter 11: The Hunt