When I visited rural Japan in late fall, many windows in ordinary houses were filled with drying persimmon (fuyu). They’d become wrinkled, brownish-rust ovals the size of oranges. The large stem had been pared off and the fruits were hung with the former stem on the side, so their shapes became a flattened egg-shape. Outside a window, each fruit hung from its own string, drying in the sun. Many persimmons, side by side, filled entire windows.

I enjoy a particular love of persimmons. In my thirties, I suffered from infertility. According to Japanese folk medicine, fuyu could cure a woman like me. I ate persimmons morning, noon and night. Within a year, I experienced the delirious joy of pregnancy and today I have a healthy son.

With its ovoid shape, the big toe reminds me of a dried Japanese persimmon. If you look closely at the top of this print, you’ll see upside down persimmons on strings that form a subtle background pattern behind the toes.

One of my Art History students, Arlene, hates her toes since childhood. She feels they’re ugly in spite of her husband’s reassurance that he loves her feet. She’s not alone because in our culture, toes’ unique and astounding shapes often remain unappreciated. Impulsively, I show Arlene my art piece Toes-Fuyu. I had applied a string dipped in wet paint around the big toe joint. The model moved her toe as much as she could. Surprisingly, a zig zag design emerged. 

When I show Arlene this image inherent in our big toes upon moving them, her admiration grows. I feel delighted when she asks me for a print of these toes. It holds pride of place in her bedroom to remind her of the beauty in her own toes.

In the last twenty years, the tendency for women to have pedicures has grown, along with fancy designs applied to each brightly-colored toe-nail. I find this celebration of the toe a satisfying symbol that we value our traditionally shunned and hidden appendages. Many women today make them special and fun. Brightly colored toes often bring a smile to me.

I know a lawyer who had lost several toes due to diabetes. Whenever I see him at a distance walking around our local courthouse on his business, I notice that he slightly hobbles. Toes seem like humble pieces of our anatomy, but they’re essential for good balance. It amazes me how much the loss of a few toes diminishes the lawyer’s confident stride, lessening his seeming strength and vigor and, in that way weakening the impression of his professionalism.

I enjoy walking several miles a day. When I walk, I muse upon the repeated herringbone patterns my hardworking toes produce (albeit invisibly). While most of us probably don’t think often about our toes, it gives me secret joy to imagine the beautiful designs they potentially create as I move about.

Pictured above: Toes Fuyu by Kaethe Kauffman.

Altar Meditations
2023 February 8 – May 8