ERROL’S COMMENTARY: THE FIG AND ME
On the morning of Friday, July 6, 2007 I spotted the bulb which seemedas though it was staring back at me from beneath a leaf. This was a moment that had been a long time coming but would not have come at all were it not for the wacky way our world has been scrambled since late August 2005.
For the decade or so since we had moved to our Mid-City home, I had wanted to have a fig tree in the back just like the one that had come with the previous house. That one was so aged, its trunk eventually split from fatigue. In its prime, though, the old tree had become a fig factory popping out hundreds of pulpy, purplish fruits, always in time for the Fourth of July. For me, Independence Day was the beginning of an annual contest between the birds and me to get at the figs first. Since I carried a bowl and had a ladder I usually won, but the figs perched on the top were the domain of the birds who would sassily peck away.
When we moved, I reluctantly left the world of fig farming. There was a tiny green space in the back behind the shed, but a neighboring cedar tree created a canopy that blocked the sunlight so that nothing but weeds could grow there. Other than serving as a private pasture for a lazy orange and white neighborhood cat, the spot was useless.
Katrina would change that. I didn’t like much of what I saw when I finally returned home, except that the cedar tree had crashed over the neighbor’s fence and now lay flat across my green space like a fallen sentinel. Now there was light beaming on the tiny yard. In a world gone mad, the fallen tree had opened the way for new opportunities, including a chance to plant a fig tree.
It took almost a year for the toppled tree to be cleared from the yard but not long after that for me to head to the nursery. Most fig trees that grow in New Orleans are of the Celeste variety; however, all that the nursery had was a Kadota, which is sort of like a Celeste except that the fruit tends to be more gold than purple. The little Kadota that I planted right in the center of the now sunny green space was a pitiful-looking twisted stick, only about four feet high, with a slight bud peaking from its top.
Planting it felt good, even therapeutic. It was so good that over the next few months, I added other fruit-giving trees including Satsuma. Grapefruit, lemon, lime, kumquat, blueberry, persimmon and even a tangelo, though I was not exactly sure what that was. There’s also another fig tree, this time a Celeste.
At some point my once-lifeless green space had become a "grove," yet the king of that grove remains the Kadota.
The tree has responded by growing so fast it’s now practically doubled in height, has grown three limbs with more on the way and easily overshadows the other struggling bushes.
Which brings me to the morning of last July 6. There had been some ripening green figlets on the Kadota’s branches but one had accelerated. About half way up the tree was a fully ripened fig; the narrow end was colored the proper Kadota gold but it became a rich purple at the rounded end, which was so full that it seemed ready to burst. My initial bite into the grove’s first fruit released a full sweet taste.
Later I realized that for the fig to have been at that stage of near over-ripenesss on the sixth of July in must have reached its zenith on the Fourth. The tree’s DNA seemed programmed for the New Orleans calendar so that raw green figs could suddenly explode with color like fireworks over the river.
There would be a few more figs to come throughout the summer though they were only an indication of the tree’s potential. The Celeste produced no fruit at all but this year it has many green figlets on track for an Independence Day ripening. The citrus trees have struggled, but with the help of Miracle-Gro they might provide some presentation come fall.
There’s still an orange and white lazy cat but never has he seen so much activity. The strange storm that opened the sunlight has also given him more bushes in whose shade he can now rest. The cycle continues: nature and man destroy, nature and man create.
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