Pedagogy of the Plants

Two-Wheeled Foraging

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Estival adventures came to a close last Sunday in a crescendo of violent afternoon thunderstorms.  Rinsed and shaken, the collective olfactory symphony was deafening, so I snapped on a pannier and biked to school.  As a steam ring rose around the bus loop, the quart jar filled with sweet cherry tomatoes.

In a former life, the boring, vacant duplexes at the end of Boulevard were filled with children.  Once a neighborhood Headstart center covered with hand-painted kids, it sat derelict for years while rosemary enjoyed the absence of groundskeepers.  Before contractors arrived, I dreamed of turning the building into a small neighborhood school of the arts while picking sprigs for new red potatoes.

A block away from school, a stout, sprawling fig tree’s fruit is beginning to brown.  Four years ago, while cruising past a small courtyard surrounded by brick medical buildings, I noticed an elderly woman milling around with a white plastic bag.  Curious, I stopped and asked what she was searching for.  She lifted her cataracted gaze into branches covered with unmistakable chestnut-colored fruit.

Shaking slightly, her brown hand reached into the bag, and handed me a fig.  With a smirk she recognized my hesitation and reached in for another.  It’s almost as though she knew my experience was limited to the Newton variety, and undergarments for Greek statues.  Without a word, she took a gentle bite as the smirk widened into a smile.  I followed suit.  Flavor matched the texture in the way a thunderstorm breaks the summer heat the moment it becomes unbearable.  Each year since that woman shared her secret tree, the taste of figs marks the start of another school year.

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