Thursday, August 05, 2010

Sharing Earth's Produce with Neighbors

Returning late from work one day, I found a bag of apricots at my door. I immediately knew where it came from. My neighbors have been growing apricots, lemons and tomatoes in their backyard for two decades, and unfailingly they have been sharing their harvests with us year after year.

The apricots are sweeter than any in grocery stores and farmers markets. Perhaps the mellow and golden rays of the California sun have something to do with it but I also know that the love that Don and Sandra pour into their garden make their harvest unique and inimitable.

I do not have a green thumb. In fact, mine is as anti-green as you can imagine. I tried to emulate my neighbors and being the selfless type, they shared their expertise with me in the many hours they spent helping me to reap what they hoped would be bountiful produce from my patch of the earth.

Since our homes are adjacent to each other, the soil is identical, and it would seem logical that what sprouts from their backyard would also sprout from ours. This expectation, however, never materialized. I used the same fertilizer, the same amount of water, the same zeal in pulling out weeds at their merest appearance, yet my produce was meager and tasteless. It slowly dawned on my neighbors that the rogue element in the equation was probably me.

In the beginning they were polite and speculated on some subterranean conspiracy that was thwarting my efforts, but it wasn't convincing. "Well," sighed Don one day, "I guess you will just have to get used to facts on the ground." The pun wasn't comforting.

Then one day, out of the blue, I decided that I was just going to buy some cherry and pear trees and plant them without any burden of expectations. Salvador Marquez, a gentle gardener with a mysterious knack for coaxing fruits and vegetables from even the most reluctant patch of earth, helped me bring the plants from a local nursery in his beat-up truck.

I soon realized that Salvador's only response to any query directed at him was, "Oh yeah?" "I think we should alternate the pears and the cherries," I said to him as we dug deep holes along the fences. "Oh yeah?" he asked. I took this as an yes but wondered if the arrangement would hinder pollination. "You think the bees will be confused?" This time Salvador didn't question me. "Oh yeah," he said.

We began around ten on a Saturday morning and after about four hours, with much rest in between for snacks, we planted all of them, six cherries (four bing and two rainier) and six Asian pears. A sense of elation swept over me. It was as if I had conquered Mount Everest.

Well, as they say, the rest is history. I didn't shower much love on the trees, treating them as casual acquaintances who needed some tender loving care now and then but otherwise were best left to their own devices. And that was the wisest decision I ever made in my life, nature-wise.

The trees grew rapidly. In the third year we were blessed (I can think of no other appropriate word) with so many cherries and pears that my wife was convinced this would be the one and only time we would see the fruits. "They have used up everything they have," she explained, "to produce this bumper crop. It will be a sin for us to expect the same next year." I had to agree. Eating a pear with relish, Salvador thought for a while and said, "Oh yeah."

We shared our harvest with our neighbors in the block - ten families - and also with friends and a few relatives across town. This, after robins, sparrows, jays, swallows, sparrows and crows had their fill of the cherries. The fruits are almost as sweet as my neighbor's apricots. Finally, some parity!

It turned out that my wife was wrong about subsequent harvests. The trees just keep giving, year after year. All I do is a little bit of pruning in January. That's all the loving care I can muster. The scandalously riotous produce has shown no sign of abating in the fifteen years since Salvador and I planted the trees. Our neighbors have come to regard our cherries and pears as part of their summer! Can anything ever beat this?

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