It’s June, and it’s that time again. Every year I forget about the onslaught. And I always seem so surprised when it hits. The apricot tree in my front yard is apparently a Blenheim. I have read it is becoming a fairly rare species. You can tell it's rare by its snooty name. I’m not sure how the tree got there. It just seemed to appear and grow one year. My old, and certifiable, gardener insisted that he planted a pit there and it grew into a tree. He said the same about the peach tree, which does produce wonderful fruit, and requires War, Part Two. Perhaps Mr. Tanaka, in his craziness, was something of a fruit tree fairy after all. Anyway, Tanaka had a way with pits.
But now, the battle. Blenheims have a very short tree life. You’ve got to get them just at the right moment, before they are fully ripe. Otherwise, they fall to the ground, or, with more frequency, are devoured by the animals. This year, when I first saw the green buds, I insisted the gardener put mesh over the tree to keep the marauders out. I saw him struggle over a couple of weekends with coverings that were too little or got stuck on the tree. Eventually, only a small portion of it got protected. Nice try.
Next, I have to be vigilant about picking. I try to beat the birds to the fruit, and pluck at just the right moment. Almost daily, I’ve been out there with my makeshift picker, gently squeezing, seeing what would yield to my tentative pull. I have learned a cardinal fruit-picking lesson: When they grow in clusters you must extract carefully or all the fruit will come off at once and hit you on the noggin. Even the unripe.
I have been carefully picking every day now. Yesterday I left some large clusters that would not be ready until today. And when I went out a short while ago I was amazed, distressed, and angry. One side of the tree that leans over the street was picked clean but had no pits or discards on the ground. I suspected some human villains came by yesterday afternoon and simply picked all my fruit. It’s happened before. I have illusions of discovering the robbery in progress, apprehending the thieves, threatening them with a rake or really sharp garden hose, making them lie down while I bound them hand and foot with wire bag closures and call the police to report the purloining of my apricot tree. Then I‘d scrape their faces with rose thorns before I’d let them off. And as I started fuming with the fury of a boxer, I made a worse discovery.
I went around to the part of the tree that’s in the gated yard, and horrors, there were no more apricots hanging on that side of the tree either. All the precious little orbs that I had been obsessing over were gone. Nothing. No fruit. Nada. Then I looked down. The debris was sickening. Scores of apricot bits lay in the dirt. There was lots of beautiful orange flesh that made me want to scoop it up off the ground and bury my nose in the juicy goodness. I could feel my mouth salivating while my stomach filled with revulsion (I never knew you could do both at the same time.) What had done this monstrous deed? What had defiled my yard, my tree, my mortgage? All these little discards. It obviously wasn’t human. And how could the deer get in here when the gate was shut? It wasn’t the crows…they don’t leave much evidence besides the pecked out fruit that still hangs on the tree. Could it be the possums that have been nosing around and running on our roof sounding like Mongol hordes invading the house? Or squirrels? But why all on this particular day? I feel attacked and don’t know how to fight back. It is the Apricot Tree Mystery.
Then I visited another part of the yard, which is not gated. The apples are almost ready. They can disappear quite quickly, and I know it’s the work of humans. And right next to them is the peach tree, and some hard little green babies are budding. Now I must start again, protecting the apples and peaches from the fruit thieves. I’m not even sure who they are anymore. And there’s not much I can do about the deer that prowl at night.
So I shall eat the apricots that I've salvaged…quickly, since they ripen fast. They are small, with a juicy, sweet-tangy taste, When I was young my grandfather had an apricot tree and he used to make jam, which I loved. My efforts have not been so successful. So I’ll try to enjoy the Blenheims while I have them. I guess it's a lesson in living with nature and living in the present.
...Vietnam stories are coming next...