Thursday, September 29, 2016

No - I don't have a weird fetish for fruit, but I do love a peach, now and then.

Mostly now. Here's a recent essay - didn't know where else to put it.

Pickin’ Peaches
A few weeks ago we looked for a place where we could get some fresh, tree-ripened peaches. Couldn’t find one. The orchards where we used to get them are gone, replaced by vineyards. The old barns and houses along those country roads now bear signs inviting the weary traveler to “Come in for a taste of our fine wines.”

Fine wine is very nice, sometimes an essential. But right now I want a peach.

I couldn’t help thinking back to a time not so many years ago, when I’d stand in an orchard, under the trees, boots wet from walking through dew-soaked grass. The morning sunshine felt good as it went about its task of waking things up. It’d get much warmer, even hot, as the day progressed, so it was good to start early.

I’d walk until I found just the right tree. Then I’d reach up and feel the fruit hanging there on the sunny side, where things had already mostly dried off.

Do you know that a peach tree will talk to you if you listen? Not so much in words, but in feelings. They do. Empathy, I think they call it. Yeah, empathy. You reach out to cup a peach in your hand, and it either hangs on to the tree, and you have to pull it loose, or it likes you, and surrenders itself for your pleasure. Falls easily into your hand. Almost seems like it knows you’ll appreciate the sweetness of its gift. It says, “Here.” And it’s good.

You can find peaches that are sweeter than that, though they’re not up in the tree. You gotta look down. There, under the tree, yes, on the ground in that patch of sunshine. That one that’s lying there soaking up the warmth of the sun, while waiting for the ants to harvest its sugars, that’s one. It would have fallen into your hand yesterday, but it waited all day, and you didn’t come.

But it’s not too late; the tree doesn’t hold a grudge.

Pick it up, wipe the dirt from the bottom side, and brush off any ants that may be prospecting there. No, you don’t want to take a bite out of that cold side, but the side facing up, with the beautiful red blush against the dark yellow-orange color of the fully ripe fruit, highlighted by that bead or two of remaining dew, that’s the best part.

Take a bite. Go ahead. Yeah, I know, Mom always said never to eat anything you pick up off the ground. “That’s dirty! Got germs! Yuck!” But this time it’s okay. And you take a bite, just to taste it. Then another, and a third, and the juice starts to run down along your little finger, down the side of your hand, and if you don’t watch out, it’ll run clear to your elbow!

And now your hand and wrist are all sticky, and you’ve run out of sunny side, so you toss the remains over there by that clump of grass. It’s okay, the tree won’t mind. Now look around for another one. Ahhh! Right there! But there’s also a bee, obviously anticipating a feast, and you hesitate. There are more, lying all around, but that one looks particularly delectable, and the bee seems to verify that as it hovers over the surface, looking for just the right place to land.

The promised reward wins out over the threat of a little pain, so you softly brush the bee away, and pick up the fallen prize. This one feels a little softer as you raise it to your mouth. Why bother even brushing off the critters on the back side? You take a bite and you savor! You feel more juice running down your fingers, and your chin, and you open your eyes after taking another bite, and you see that the bee has landed on the side of your hand, and is enjoying that nectar, oblivious to the source. You decide to share, so you carefully take another bite, then watch as he crawls right into the opening you’ve just made, and begins to gorge on the remaining sweetness. You put that one down gently, because now the bee is an ally. You’ve shared sustenance together. So you find another. And another. And life is good.

You can only eat so many, though, and you look back up to see the others are filling their baskets, so you begin filling yours with the lesser, but still promising, fruit that the tree releases to you. It seems you both know which ones will best survive the trip back home, where you’ll put them into jars, make them into pies and jam, into shortcakes and dried fruit. 

Maybe ice cream!

You can’t resist one more, that big one there, so there’s fresh juice on your chin, and your shirt is has both wet and dry spots on it as you get back to the car. And then you sneak one final peach out of the basket, “just to eat on the way home.”

Later, when the house is closed up tightly against the cold and snow of the new year, and the smell of wood smoke lingers, you walk into the pantry and see all those bright jars lined up on the shelves. But the light they reflect is not winter’s cold, artificial, fluorescent glare.

It’s the soft sunshine of late summer mornings.

Under peach trees.

Where you shared a blessing.

hjt – September, 2016

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