Summer Swan Song & Persimmon Predictions

Tricia Pearsall and her dog go looking for the last gasp of summer on the James River, but find a winter warning instead.

My dog and I went down to the river—the James River in Richmond—to taste an October summer bonus day of snorkeling. Weather forecast said it would be warm, 82º and sunny with a river level about 3.8 feet. I brought along a throwaway underwater camera for capturing catfish in my favorite swimming hole. This would be my summer swan song.

When I was growing up, I used to go into a double dip depression this time of year. We lived at the beach, and when the sun headed south on the horizon, it meant no more swimming, hanging out ocean side, sailing or water-skiing. Fortunately, we still have a month’s grace of early evening daylight, but that will soon turn dark with the coming time change.

I was really looking forward to spending a lazy day on the river with my dog. Well, the river level was accurate, but temperature was mid-70s, not quite warm enough to offset the cooler river temperature, and, more importantly, it was cloudy; not a good day for snorkeling. All was not lost, however. Virginia’s rivers never cease to amaze.

I crossed the main section of the river and hiked along the rocks to the catfish pond. Shivering, I plied the waters. All catfish gone, only a few bleached bones on the shore, probably remains of those who got too fat and died late summer in the shallow, oxygen-deprived water. At one time last summer, there were probably over a hundred in this hole. One hot July evening, I picked several up by their mid-sections with my two hands, a couple of noodlers grabbed them by their mouths using bare and gloved hands—catfish do have sharp teeth. We threw them all back, but now they were all gone—moved on downriver by deep floodwaters. Of course, it didn’t help that my dog finally decided to swim by herself in deep water, so she managed to stir up the silt, making underwater vision nearly impossible.

So I abandoned snorkeling and hiked over to my even more favorite place, a swimming hole with two separate rocky waterfalls where, when it’s really hot, you can sit underneath and cool. You have to wade, rock hop, slip and fall, scramble through briars and navigate sandy strip islands to get there. And on one of those islands, I found a persimmon tree, ripe with fruit. Here’s a little tree in the middle of the James River, which has survived this season’s floods, thunderstorms, heat and hurricanes. A testament to resilience. I snagged a couple of the shaded orange, perfect autumn-colored fruit to take home. Not for eating, mind you. They’re too green now, and would turn your mouth inside out. I’ve been told they’re not ready to eat until after the first frost, but I wanted to check out the seeds.

Persimmon (diospyros virginiana) seeds are supposed to be local winter weather predictors, much like the stripes of woolly bear caterpillars or the thickness of onion skins. Cut the seed in half and examine the sprout. Folklore says a fork-shaped sprout equals a mild winter, a spoon-shaped sprout means lots of snow, and a knife-shaped sprout forecasts an icy cold, bitter winter. I split 6 seeds; all spoons, so go out now and buy another snow shovel!

Looking for swimming holes next summer? Try SwimmingHoles.org/VA.html

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