Friday, February 01, 2008

On ripening

Ripening figs. Image found here

The other day at Tales from the Microbial Laboratory, Pam wrote about a ramble she and her dogs went on in her garden, making note of some plants already beginning to bud, and then this:

There were also all sorts of birds hanging out in the branches of the fig tree, waiting patiently even, daydreaming of mid-July and a tree filled with sweet, sweet brown figs.
In my comment on her post, I wrote that that reminded me of the fig tree in my father's parents' yard and how, when the figs would just begin to turn, Grandma would warn me away from them, saying that they weren't ripe and to wait; I wrote that that fig tree and the warnings away from it may have been where I learned about the notion of ripening. Grandma also told me the fig leaves were poisonous and I'd get sick if I so much as brushed up against them, but that's a story for another time.

This all got me to thinking about writing a post on the theme of ripening. I thought how, unless we either grew our own food or knew someone who did, about the only fruit we see ripening these days are still-green bananas or, in my case today, those avocados I bought for making guacamole for eating while watching the Super Bowl. I thought how produce sections of grocery stores, with their everything's-in-season-and-ready-to-eat vibe, have indirectly contributed to our culture's collective loss of patience and isn't that a shame? I've thought about how the theme of ripening, with its requiring of patience, is applicable to education--intellectual maturation--as well.

All this thinking started a week ago. This post I have taking shape in my mind, it's not quite there and I know it, though I want it to be. In its own way, it's like those long-ago figs with their first faint flush of gold on their green surfaces. Better, for now, to walk on past and pretend that those leaves really are poisonous. They'll just irritate me if I get too close to gaze on that too-green fruit to try to hurry them along with my eyes.


Marysusan Noll said...

There is a lot to be said for the patience of ripening. As the person who took the photo of those figs (Thanks for the credit BTW, too often that doesn't happen, rock) I can attest to the eager anticipation each season for the figs to become ripe. I can not tell you how many afternoons are spent gently pinching the figs to see if they have started to go soft inside, or if they are only teasing by turning that mystical shade of plum. Likening this to the maturation of ideas (which sometimes also need to be pinched and tested) is an apt comparison indeed.

John B. said...

Welcome and thank you and you're welcome, Marysusan--that's a beautiful picture, by the way. Figs' ripening is especially enigmatic--something I could/should have included . . . I told y'all it wasn't quite ready.

Pam said...

I let the birds tell me when my figs are ripe - and then we share them (I have two large trees, so I have that luxury).

I wasn't aware that fig leaves were poisonous - and I'm sure that I've brushed up against them a million times. Interesting.

But yes, you're right, in the absence of direct experience, how does one truly understand ripening?

John B. said...

As I got older, I came to realize that the bit about the leaves was a typical German-grandmother ploy to keep the young-uns away from the figs. Not quite Grimm Brothers territory, but in the same vein. Anyway, it worked for a long time.

Marysusan Noll said...

It may not have been entirely a ploy on your Germanic Gran-frau's part. Fig leaves and trees are flush with latex, which can be VERY irritating to some. My neighbor's dog foamed at the mouth for two hours after mistakenly chomping on some fig leaves, as he is wont to do with the falling maples. Chances are he won't do that again....Kind of makes you think of Adam and Eve in a new

John B. said...

The fig leaves as proto-hairshirts, perhaps?
Here's what I remember of those childhood days: 1) The figs' beginning to ripen; 2) Grandma's injunction about the leaves; 3) my contorting my hands and wrist around the leaves to look at the figs; 4) brushing against the leaves and wondering just how soon I would die and how I'd explain all that to my family; 5) not getting even so much as a rash.
That said, I don't doubt what you say.