Monday, March 31, 2008

The Mission Fig

Although our kitchen has been updated to an open, inviting space, for some reason I still like to sip my morning coffee out on the stoop. A little low-rent perhaps, or maybe just a die-hard habit from leaner times, it's my way to take in the morning. Butt on the top step, my feet on the next, the "stoop" is now a small deck built out of sustainable Trexx during the recent renovation with a view that surveys our bountiful backyard, a veritable kaleidoscope of greens and blues and yellows, underscored by the sounds of insects buzzing and water trickling off slabs of flagstone as it cascades into the lily pond.

Hard to believe this back yard was once a slab of cement.

Hard to believe that last year the fig tree, now bursting with buds, actually fell over. To the ground. Was it going to make it or not?

Heavy with fruit, perhaps over-burdened and under-attended, it seemed to be leaning a little bit more to the left last fall. Were we just imagining it? Could this mature tree, planted almost a decade ago, actually be… moving? Couldn't be.

But next day it seemed to be leaning a little bit farther over, then later, almost precariously to the left. By sundown she actually gave way, falling all the way to the ground. A 9-yr mature fig tree with arms spanning 10-12 feet wide lay there, prostrate on the ground.

The tree had been a baby, a mere 4-foot stick when I'd found her and planted her in the first year we bought the house. In fact, amid months of flying construction debris, a veritable war zone of rubble and changing landscapes, that little Mission held her own, determinedly took root, and soared.

Something about the California sun, the desert and her timeless offering of peace, she spoke to me as an iconic symbol of maternal wealth and abundance. I knew she belonged here with us. I planted her among the rubble, a silent reminder amidst continual change.

Through the years, she grew to provide a delightful canopy of shade, offering a welcome spot for mama and baby to rest under her sweet-scented lacey green cover. It was the place to hold court with a blanket and a picnic, a stack of toddler books and a few games, or a blow-up pool and some beach towels, providing a much-needed respite from the monotony of the same 4 walls of caregiving and the glaring California sun.

Her voluptuous and magnificent bounty provided us with fig jam, fig-marsala ice cream, figs over arugula with balsamic glaze and crumbled stilton, pork chops with fig shiraz sauce, fish fillets steamed in fig leaves…unending possibilities, culinarily speaking.

Perhaps my deepest joy was watching my toddler grow to be able to reach up and pluck out her own fleshy treats, independent of mama, crushing them sweetly against her pink lips, giggling at her ability to procure her own delightful nourishment.

But as the years passed, due to overwrought schedules and unforeseen stresses leading to un-harvested fruit and an un-maintained yard, she became neglected. Without meaning to, her generous bounty became more of a burden than a benefit.

Weighted and embarrassed by such a gross display of unused riches, her fruits dropping and rotting on the ground, exhausted from holding herself up so long unattended and unadmired, she finally bowed over, weeping in surrender.

It's a feeling I might know something about.

My husband was sure the root ball had been severed and it was just a matter or time before it died. He was more than happy to get rid of it, chop it out, since the decomposing fruit droppings and ever-widening branches had for some time now been challenging his ability to mow even straight rows in the lawn underneath.

But do we discard her in search of a perfectly manicured lawn without branches or rotting fruit to contend with? Unable to keep up with her offerings, do we then ignore her? Abandon her? Or do we instead shower her with gratitude and thanks for providing us with her company, her shade canopy, her gorgeous abundance of ripe fruit, her not one-but-two harvests per year bounty, all the family memories shared, her incredible tenacity and resilience to continue to survive and grow after hardship…the shear grace of her presence? Doesn't that count for something? How do we value that, quantify it? By chopping it down?!

I said let's wait and see how she does, willing to let go of her if that was what was meant to happen, but silently rooting for some sort of comeback.

The tree had offered us so much over the years, I couldn't face hacking her down, erasing her memories for some perfunctory carpet of grass.
What is it with men and their vision of perfect green lawns anyway? It's not like they ever bend over to pull out a weed mind you! They just mow right over them, propagating them further, determined to own a perfectly manicured green.

With ropes and our neighbor, the three of us managed to pry the thing back up, wedging 2x4s under her vulnerable side to keep her propped up. I plucked off as much fruit as I could find, offering her treasures to neighbors and friends before pruning her back severely to lighten her load. Come November, she dropped all her leaves and went under for long, long sleep.

Still dormant, during the holidays we decorated her bare branches as we always had done with crystalline snowflakes and glittery icicles, watching them twist and sparkle in the wintery sun.

It could have gone either way.

So imagine my surprise when out on the stoop sipping my morning cup of joe, I notice the reemergence of life unprovoked. Despite hardship, despite apathy, despite abandonment, there she grows, fingers reaching upward, refusing to be deterred, refusing to be defeated!

Teeming with buds, damn if she isn't a fine display of tenacity and resilience. A symbol of resurrection. Proof of life itself.

I raise my cup and my heart to her today… inspired by the ultimate surrender followed by a burst of brilliance.

Mission accomplished.

* * *

The Mission Fig: a photo essay

Baby Pictures...

...amidst the rubble:

* * *

Ten years later...
Signs of life after near death experience:

Two more weeks of growth



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Carrie Wilson Link said...

Absolutely beautiful writing, allegory, all of it.


Jerri said...

Love that fig tree. Lordy, what a positive note for the end of my work day.

Sometimes success is a matter of endurance, isn't it? The fig shows us that. Thanks for letting us peek in at her growth/resilience.

Mama 'N Me said...

You and the fig tree have stayed with me for days. Thought you'd like to know this piece had a big impact.


Jen McGrath said...


riversgrace said...

LOVE you so much in every word. You are such a fine writer, such a strong and lovely woman. I only wish we could spend time in each other's presence. That would be the joy - to speak all this in conversation, on the stoop, with our joe. Please keep's a piece of mercy every time.