Photo Prayer 2020-14 -- Sweetgum Seed Pods

  Does anyone pray for a bumper crop of sweetgum seed pods? We’ve had one this winter and spring. Nearly the size of golf balls, they look like the lethal spore of some alien life-form. Hard and spiky, treading on them is a bit like walking on large ball bearings. If it were my choice, these two trees would be cut down, but since they are my neighbors’ trees, I’ve learned to live with them, just as I’ve learned to live with my neighbors. I could be hard and spiky. My neighbors could be afraid of treading on me. Instead, I greet them affectionately, not simply to be friendly, but in hope of something better. So what if I am down on hands and knees, picking up the offending fruit scattered over my yard? The sun is shining and I need the exercise!

Photo of a sweetgum seed pod.
Photo and text copyright 2020 by Danny N. Schweers.

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Comments [with author’s replies in brackets]

Rosemary wrote:
Danny, you are simply gorgeous.
[Gorgeous? Successful writers do not call attention to themselves, but to the subject at hand. I have failed!]

Anne wrote:
Brilliant, Danny! What a wonderful reminder to "mind our spikiness.” With hope that you and your family are well and will stay that way.
[We are well, Anne! My many volunteer efforts were mostly on-line before the state of emergency was declared. Working in the yard gets me outside.]

Alice wrote:
Danny, we just came back from a week of watching our twins while their parents moved into a new house. And guess what is all over their roof and deck -- yes, sweetgum pods. We did not know what they were but my grandchildren love throwing them over the side of the deck. I am sure my son will feel the same way you do about this tree, which unfortunately is in his front yard. Again, another wonderful photo prayer.

Burley wrote:
Danny: Thanks for all your photo prayers. We really enjoy them. Burley and Helga

Anne wrote:
Danny - great photo of these lovely sweetgum pods - I too have neighbors who have these trees on their property - sure wish we could put a big diaper around the tops of these trees to hold all of these sweet pods.
[Tree diapers? I think you are onto something, Anne!]

Nina wrote:
Why can't be all like you?
[Like me? I would not wish that on anyone, yet I know every life is difficult, challenging, and often overwhelming, yet full of so many good things. I am especiallly fond of the hymn, “How Can I Keep From Singing”, music by a Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry, words perhaps by him. My favorite version is by the trio Bok, Muir, and Trickett, found on YouTube at ]

Wanda wrote:
Danny, as always, thank you for your keen observations and sharp camera lens… we, too, try to avoid the sidewalks in our neighborhood that have had the same bumper crop. They are indeed peril to those of us who get distracted by the nearby jonquils and forsythia blooming so profusely. We recognize that to have one, we must have the other. As it is with so much of life...

Bill wrote:
Nice. Thanks. It is always in our power to reframe our response to events around us. Good reminder of how to do it.

Elaine wrote:
Great picture Danny. The prayer --- it is just like you to always look for the good that can be gained.
[I look for the good to escape the funk caused by finding the bad. I don’t want to live in a fantasy world where everything is wonderful, but in the real world where everything can be and will be redeemed.]

Craig wrote:
About 2 yrs ago a new neighbor moved in next door. There was a magnificent Aleppo pine and beautiful olive tree growing in that yard, next to our fence, providing beauty, green, and much-needed shade to our property. We thought of them as "our" trees. She promptly cut them down, reasons unknown. I don't think I've ever forgiven her. Wish I could muster the equanimity you speak of. Out here [Arizona], trees are at a premium, and their wonderfulness deeply appreciated. Spare those trees! You need them, your neighbor needs them, the world needs them! (And yes, the olives too were quite a mess at times….)
[Twenty years ago, trees were nearly sacred in our village. Leaseholders had to get permission from the Trustees before cutting them down. Then the trees started falling on homes. The heavy beech trees were especially devastating. Now trees are cut down whenever they appear dangerous or, like the seven walnut trees we took down years ago, annoying. That said, the Villages of Arden are still recognized as Tree Cities USA and something like 86% of our three villages are covered by trees.]

John wrote:
Great one Danny; this one set off lots of helpful sparks in my mind. I know I can be hard and spiky too. Good to remember that. (But I can’t imagine that applying to you.)
[Don’t get me started, John! I can be as hard and spiky as anyone!]

James wrote:
At our house [in Delaware] we had these in abundance. Called them “monkey balls” and they would completely blanket the lawn. Again, they were not our trees or they would have been gone. They were a nasty nuisance to walk on and real hard to get up. The ones falling in the garden beds took a long time to get out. Plus they started falling in very early spring and kept on coming for months! Great you are taking a positive from them, a learning, I shall consider your perspective and hope to get over my annoyance with them.
[I find the annoyance stays but can be modified, ameliorated, and, to use one of my favorite words, redeemed, by one’s own work and by grace.]

Kerry wrote:
Hi Danny! Love this story with the neighbors!!

Carolyn wrote:
I have them all over my driveways and they are dangerous. I forget to look down and have had some near misses. Even if I don’t fall, they can be painful. They were blown off yesterday and some are already back.

Ernestine wrote:
Amen, Amen...

FACEBOOK COMMENTS, mostly from my neighbors in Delaware except as noted

Oh, monkey balls. You never cease to be in the way! These little buggers caused my mom to fall and separate her shoulder (many years ago now, but still ever present).

Is there any good use for monkey balls? I can’t think of any. [I saw a crafter at a Philadelphia show who used them to decorate wooden jewelry boxes. Burnished and lacquered, they are stunning!]

I wondered if you could dip them in wax and use for fire starters. I wanted to ask Betty to put one in Mark's prom boutonniere as a joke, but I didn't want to have to slow dance with that thing in my face.

Add them to your pine cone wreath! I somehow love them and the tree that makes them, and have ever since I learned the Kookaburra song as a child

Nancy [Florida]
We had sweetgum trees in our yard when we lived in Ft. McCoy, FL. In the summertime, I go barefoot a lot but didn't where those trees were. I hated those little spiky balls. Sorry about your neighbors.

Ren Ata
Please don’t cut down any trees!

I always called them monkey balls. [Turns out that other fruit are called monkey balls as well, so I felt like I had to be more generic here.]

I have 2. It takes me 3 full days of work every spring to get rid of the majority. I try to look at it as good exercise.

As a little kid my great aunts would have these at their house and they would tie a thread around them to hang them with. My job was to paint them silver and gold and they would put them on the tabletop Christmas tree.

Jim [Texas]
I actually planted one. One of the few trees down here that have color in the fall.

Looks like a mega-cluster of baby birds ready for food.

Melissa [Texas]
You could send the seed pods to us. 😊😜

Delia [Southern California]
I like them! I tried making tree ornaments one year. Unfortunately my trees didn't do well here and died of infestations and drought.

As your neighbor, blame on Bob. I love that magnificent tree. Cut all the trees and hedges down. Then you do not have to rake. Time for a condo. [Love you, Bob, and those trees as well, just not their fruit.]

June [Florida]
Hate them!!!

They've got to have a useful purpose. I say we spray paint them gold and string them to wrap around trees. I've heard some medication is derived from them. I have a few trees - we pay to have those darn balls sucked up. The poor dog can't walk on them.

Actually, it looks like the coronavirus! And thanks for identifying them: I didn’t know what they were.

Jean [Texas]
Oh yes; I love them on my wreaths

They also are Luna Moth caterpillar host plants!!

My friend calls them Space Bugs, because when she was a kid, she thought they fell from the sky. It's a good name for them. The tree is the host plant [for Luna Moth caterpillars]. Not the space bugs. Or am I wrong on that?

I’ve often thought a great band name would be “The Goddamn Monkeyballs”.

They look like the Coronavirus! Funny story about monkey balls. We had a friend visiting who wanted to take a walk around Arden. So, we went down one of the paths that had these pods and I slipped on one. I said, "Damn monkey balls! I've turned my ankle again on these buggers." His face got red and he asked, "WHAT did you call THEM?!!!?" I said, "Monkey balls". He had never heard them called that before.

My granny spray painted them gold and made Christmas wreaths.

I like these better than the whirly-birds or helicopters from my neighbor's maple tree that have gotten ankle deep some years and sprout EVERYWHERE!

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