Nothing in our back yard thrives but the concrete. I’ve said it many times. Well, now I have to un-say it. It turns out that almost nothing does. There is one living thing in that many-ringed hell-hole that does defy the odds. It defies, too, the horrible clay soil, vicious amounts of direct sunlight, and less-vicious, but still real, neglect of its owners. The miracle entity in question?
A fig tree.
Seriously. The thing is indestructible. I don’t think Jesus himself could have withered it. Although Lord knows he would have tried. While every bit of flora around it dries out, sags, and ultimately folds in on itself and sinks back into the ground in a botanical form of Harakari quite heartbreaking to behold, the fig tree prospers. It grows in feet instead of inches. Its branches shout of health and fertility. Its leaves are a deep, plant-store green. The weather grows hotter. Drier. More scorching. The concrete radiates, a horizontal furnace. Even our tomato plants give up. The fig tree? Burgeoning. Verdant. Fecundity personified. If it were a person it’d be whistling “if you’re happy and you know it.”
And now that its fruit has come in? Holy produce. We have a bigger harvest than Whole Foods. They’re lovely, too — dark and bruiselike in color, round, firm, largely unmolested by birds. Actually, there’s so many of them that, could I put up a billboard that birds would comprehend, I would. “Come,” it would say, “open your beaks and behold. It is the promised land.” We need, in short, more predators.
Because the thing is? Mike likes figs. I don’t. And, because I’m a green-ribbon parent at best, my opinions have swiftly become my daughter’s. My fear of bugs? Hers. My preference for hybrid cars? Hers. My absolute scorn for the cantaloupe? Hers.
“Ugh,” I said, when I tried the figs from our tree for the first time, my daughter standing nearby. “Too seedy.”
“Ugh,” Myra-Jean said, in perfect emulation, when she tried them. “Too seedy.”
And that was that. Case closed. I know. I’m an ass. Someday I will learn to keep my mouth shut. By then MJ will live on her own, in a fruit-and insect-phobic world of closed-mindedness and fear. At least she will drive a Prius.
Anyway. Mike has been attempting to eat what amounts to, oh, probably five pounds of figs a week. Otherwise, he reasons, they’ll end up on the ground, which is a mess none of us wants to deal with. So he harvests rigorously. Plus, he swears ours are particularly good. But still. Five pounds! I’ve asked him what they’ve done to his intestines, but he’s cagey on the subject. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is an answer in itself. I did notice, furthermore, that, instead of eating the last batch, he took it to work. Or at least he meant to. Except he forgot the bag in the car and by the time he retrieved it the whole pile had gone bad. Voila, five pounds of figs: Your new name is trash.
With another giant bowlful having been harvested this morning, and Mike tired of dealing with them, I decided to get creative. Facebook, I thought, will solve this. Surely someone will want these horrid things. Did I mention they secrete a white juice when you cut the stems? A juice that can burn your skin? And is related to latex? I mean, honestly. Gross.
So I posted a status update saying I had some figs to get rid of. Did anyone want to pick them up? Somebody? Please?
Half and hour and eighteen comments later, the answer was a resounding yes. In fact, the figs were gone so quickly from my porch, where I left them out under a cheesecloth, that I have already promised the entire next harvest to one disappointed would-be-taker and the one after that to another. I have been given a jar of strawberry jam in exchange, and offered homemade pickles by someone else. And, of course, I have been told repeatedly that I should use them myself. I could dry them. I could put them in salads. I could incorporate them into any number of wonderful dishes: whole grain fig newtons, fig and lemon tarts, pork roasts, fig butter, goat cheese figs, fig preserves with sumac and rosewater. Isn’t sumac poisonous? Apparently not in figland.
Anyway. I’m not going to do any of those things. I know I should. I know I’m lame. I feel terrible that I’m not more adventurous. I truly regret that I don’t churn my own butter, know what all the herbs do, or feel at ease with the word “artisanal.” I pray I don’t ruin my kid. Every day I ask God — who I believe really cares about such things, sporadically — that my daughter not grow up to live on Ramen noodles and mini carrots. Although some of those Ramen flavors are pretty spectacular. Come to think of it, if I had a Ramen tree I wouldn’t share one shrink-wrapped, neon-colored package of it with anyone. Screw charity. Screw community. It would be mine, all mine! I would sow; I would reap. Especially the chili flavor.
Artisanal Ramen butter. Now that’s something I could get behind. As for the figs? We’ll have a new batch in three days. I’ll let you know when they’re out. And remember. First come, first served.