“Are figs your favorite fruit?” a young volunteer asked me as we walked toward the fig trees on the east side of my barn. He had just read my blog about figs and kisses. “No, not really.” I replied. His question led me to reflect: why had these figs touched me so deeply?
Fresh figs have come to me relatively late in my life. As with any new love, I am tantalized by my first taste, by unknown possibilities. I have known and loved strawberries, raspberries and blackberries nearly all my life. I picked the first fig from my tree after I turned sixty. This year, I learned to watch and wait until the fruit cracked slightly at its bottom before I pulled it apart with my teeth and let its smooth, sweet juiciness fill my mouth with the most exquisite energy.
Each fruit has its season: strawberries ripen at the end of May. They express the energy of early summer in the seeds that are embedded in their bright red skin. Blackberries ripen in late July and early August—the height of the summer. They embody sultry high summer heat as they carry their seeds inside soft, dark, plump flesh. The skin of the fig is muted, mauve and green; it blends in with the trunk and leaves. Inside, its bright pink and cream flesh nearly drips with sweet, juicy flesh.
This is the northern limit for growing figs without extraordinary attention. One especially cold winter, my trees died back to the ground, then sent fresh shoots up from their roots the following spring. Last winter was mild. My fig trees are as big as they have ever been—ten feet tall, ten feet wide and twenty feet long. Early this summer, I noticed the small nubs of fruit growing out of almost every joint where the leaves meet the trunk: an incredible crop. I had had one bountiful harvest of figs; now I might have another. Would they ripen, I wondered? When the weather turned cool in early September; I despaired. Then the weather turned unseasonably warm. I now have savoring fresh figs every day!
These figs are the fruit of my relationship with Charlie. Charlie had been one of my first and best friends when I moved to the farm. We sat next to each other in church. He had been the first to invite me into his home. We had been avid gardeners together. He gave me small shoots from his mature trees, and he helped me plant them. He died this spring at the age of 93. This harvest, just months after his death, reminds me of Charlie and how sweet our relationship was.
Yesterday, on the last day of summer, the young man and I searched the tree for ripe figs. We peered through large fuzzy leaves and smooth brown trunks to search for the ripe figs. We bent the trunks to reach for figs high on the plants. Some of the figs I had left on the plant the day before had been eaten down to the stem. Others were half eaten. Probably by birds, we both agreed. We saw what looked like piercing beak marks in the flesh of the fruit.
The young man and I stood in the sun on a nearly cloudless warm day. We picked a heavy pint and enjoyed several fresh figs straight from the tree. Who knows when or if he will ever eat such fruit again? What will I find tomorrow? Soon, ever so soon, the sweetness of summer will be over; nights will cool, the apples will crisp. Perhaps for a week or two more, I can invite my guests to walk to the trees. I can find and pick a ripe fig for them.
Perhaps that is what my life is becoming: I can no longer work as hard as I did ten years ago. Nor would I choose such effort. At the end of my summer, the fig has taught me: I can hold sweetness inside me and offer it to others. Perhaps as we mature, we have mostly love left, mostly sweetness left, mostly sharing left. But what could be sweeter?