Kousa fruit

I always forget each year how quickly the semester gets busy, as if the school year were a circus act where students and instructors alike are shot out of a cannon to achieve maximum velocity almost instantly: kaboom! It’s already the third week of the semester at Keene State, and already I have my Creative Nonfiction students starting their research projects, and my Thinking & Writing students aren’t far behind. Knowing how much time and effort it takes to climb the mountain of a sustained writing project, I know the first step toward success is getting an early start.

Ripe and ripening

Autumn is the season when time speeds up — suddenly the lazy days of summer are gone, gone, gone, and each day seems in an increasing hurry to hasten toward sunset. There never are enough hours in the day, and this always comes as a sudden shock each September, as if I could have forgotten such a dire truism. Tonight when I arrived in Keene for another week of face-to-face classes, the town felt noticeably quieter than it did two weeks ago when I arrived to re-inhabit my apartment the night before my first classes began. Two weeks ago, students were hanging out and relaxing with their neighbors, not yet swamped with homework on their first day of classes. Tonight, on the other hand, there was less traffic and fewer pedestrians, as if a noticeable number of students were hunkered down at home with homework or with the tiring task of procrastination.

Berries with variegated leaves

In the meantime, Nature has gotten an early start on a sustained project of her own, revising her first green drafts into something riper and more mature. Every year, I wish I had the time and discipline to learn the names of the myriad berries that ripen in fall — the hordes of honeysuckle and various viburnums — and each year I push it off until next year. In the meantime, I greet the fruit and berries of autumn as foggily familiar neighbors I see only in passing each year, but never long enough to exchange names. “Oh, yes,” I smile and nod, searching my mental archives for a name that never surfaces. “You!” The greeting is heartfelt if not entirely personalized, the first fruits of autumn realizing at the center of their cells that their existence is essentially an anonymous, perishable one.

Click here for the latest installment of Dave Bonta’s Woodrat podcast, which features a conversation with me on far-flung topics such as blogging, journal-keeping, pilgrims, hermits, and Buddhism. Enjoy!

Kousa dogwood flower-to-fruit

If only we all could take a cue from Kousa dogwood, which as its flowers fade from their perfect prime ripen into beautiful fruit. All ages have their own beauty, not just the young buds.

Click here for a handful of images of Kousa dogwood blossoms fading into fruit. The weekend promises to be sunny here in Massachusetts, so I plan to spend as much time as possible outside and unplugged. Happy weekend, everyone!

Kousa dogwood

At first glance, they look like an alien life form: little pink globules hanging from gracefully branching ornamental trees. And this year, they’re everywhere: golf-ball-dimpled fruit dotting a tree in front of the President’s house at Keene State, and baubles bobbing on a tree by a bench in front of the now-closed Waban branch library in Newton.

Sign of autumn

I don’t remember seeing pink, dimpled globules hanging from trees last year, but surely they were there: the trees that currently sport spherical pink Easter eggs aren’t new to their neighborhoods, and neither am I. But I had to do a double-, triple-, then quadruple-take when I first noticed this year’s strange fruit. These alien life forms hang from trees with dogwood-looking leaves, and dogwoods are popular ornamentals in both Newton and Keene. But the dogwoods I’m familiar with–the wild kind–bear clusters of bright red berries, not funky, fleshy globes.

A quick Google search solves the mystery: Kousa dogwood, alternately called Asian or Japanese flowering dogwood. Apparently ornamental Asian dogwoods don’t follow the same fruiting form as their wild American counterparts. But still, I’m left with another, more pressing enigma: how could I have walked for so long through the neighborhoods I and these dogwoods share without having previously noticed them?