16 July 2009

To the Brave go the Spoils

A fig tree grows in our front yard. It is a persistent tree, a survivor. For seven or eight summers now, Ysidro the gardener has hacked it back almost to nothing, just when the fat hand-shaped leaves start to form their promising canopy. Ysidro (and let me pause for a moment to gush rhapsodic about the beauty of that name!) doubtlessly thought the tree was a nuisance, growing over our cars and making a mess (more on that in a minute). For some reason, however, last summer he relented and took pity on the tree.

In the fall I could smell that delicious warm earthy aroma wafting off the leaves baking in the sun. All winter long I watched it inch taller. Now the tree easily stands twelve feet tall, and the moment I've been waiting for has arrived. Its branches droop under the weight of its bounty.

I've deemed the fruit rapidly ripening outside my door The World's Tastiest Figs. Other figs are dark purple, almost black, and a brownish-purple on the inside. They taste dark and earthy and feel grainy against your teeth. Not our figs.

Our figs are bright green, but fade almost to yellow as they ripen and their thin skins til sometimes it actually ruptures. What lies inside is a shock - translucent and blushing pink, and not dry, but like jelly, if it were made from rose petals.

Somewhere along the line I got the idea that ours are Adriatic figs. Well, tack an exotic location on anything's nomenclature and I'll instantly like it better. Poor ole stringy, dried out Calmyra figs, with their spinster-ish name, dessicating in the desert. Our figs are lush, European topless sun-bathers on a stony Dubrovnik beach. "Join us, we're having cocktails!" these figs beckon.

Yet we have a rival for our figs. The birds. They are the ones who initially taught me when the figs were ripe. I'd have my eye on a fattening specimen on an easy-to-reach, low-hanging bough. Tomorrow it'll be ready. Still too firm today, I'd think. But tomorrow would be too late.

They'd have pecked themselves into a fury, our birds, leaving a seedy crime scene in their wake. Seriously, you do not want to park your car under this tree in summer.

They don't waste one minute, our neighborhood birds. I'm out there everyday, squeezing figs as unsheepishly as an MD, eyeing and sniffing and sizing up the chances of getting one of those sun-warmed beauties before the feathered horde.

Its a battle. But the spoils of this war are sweet.

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