Osage oranges are one autumn’s delights for me.

I never knew about them until my first residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts a few autumns ago. There, I happened upon these glorious light neon-green orbs. They were lying by a hedge that seamed a field I was crossing on one of my walks.

What, I asked myself as I picked one up, are these wonders of nature?

Another artist at the VCCA must have asked herself that same question. She made a pencil drawing of one and added a little research article below it. Then she titled her flyer “Osage Oranges” and left a copy at each studio door step. I learned that Osage oranges grow on hardy trees that farmers used to plant as hedges because of their thorny branches. I placed my specimen on my enormous studio desk, and every day I marveled at this wondrous sphere of green grooves. And I savored its slight citrusy scent, so unlike all other smells of autumn.

Then I forgot about Osage oranges until the next fall, when I was teaching at Joliet Junior College and hiked along their woodland trail after my class. One morning green balls beckoned on the path. Oh, what a treat to happen upon them again! I even found one of the trees they were tumbling from that was quite accessible. I could pick them straight of the branches before they had a chance to rot on the ground or get busted open by hungry squirrels! On the way back, my coat pockets were bulging!

Ever since, I look for Osage oranges in the fall.

I’ve never seen them in the city, and even in the surrounding country they are not that prevalent. So I was elated when I spotted them around the corner from our car dealership in Frankfort, Illinois. After we were done with our car errands, we drove to that spot where I carefully picked out these Osage oranges that now grace our coffee table. I can smell them from where I sit on the couch and write. My kids think I’m slightly nuts to be besotted with an inedible fruit, but there you have it.

Osage oranges make me happy.