Rob and I had a great moment last week: we harvested our very first ripened fig! Our fig tree was a gift from me to Rob four years and one month ago, when we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We were sorely strapped for money at that time, and I was wild to find something meaningful that I could offer to Rob as a remembrance of the sweetest and most important event of my life. I decided I wanted to give him a fig tree. (I’m tired enough now that I don’t want to start on a tangent about why it was the perfect symbol for our marriage, but I will plunge into that explanation another time.)
I called every nursery in the valley. I called mail order companies. They all told me that only ornamental figs were suited to my climate. I just knew this couldn’t be true, because Rob and I had some time earlier laid a hush-hush claim to what we considered to be our own secret fig tree. It grew in a place on the local university campus where we frequently went walking, and it was not in a spot that was familiar to most. It was sheltered--hidden, really. We harvested figs there whenever we could (usually under cover of night) and they were thrilling and fine. There’s hardly anything more perfect or delicious than a ripe, fresh, and--yes, it’s true what they say--sensual fig. Our tree was so covered in the great, deep, green, and generously open hands that were its leaves, that its fruits loitered--ripening lazily, waiting for us, making us wait--confident and concealed. It was a wound to think that my great idea to give Rob such a tree was out of the question. Truly, I couldn’t wisely afford one, but in my desire to give Rob a treasure, and in my unwillingness to shake the obsession with the fig tree, I would’ve rationalized any foolhardy spending, if it hadn’t been for the problem of our reportedly unsuitable growing zone!
At last, a tiny light flickered above my head, just long enough for me to distinguish the outline of the only obvious solution, which was to by my own hand take surreptitious cuttings from “our” tree, the mama fig. I studied up on how to take successful cuttings. I secured a giant Rubbermaid storage container and stabbed drainage holes into the bottom. I got a heavy bag of sand and poured it into the Rubbermaid. I bought rooting hormone and read the directions. After making sufficient preparations, I slipped over to campus early one cool morning and, looking nervously over my shoulder, helped myself to ten promising branches. Mama fig seemed as pleased and approving as a tree can, and when I’d finished my careful pruning, she rearranged herself and appeared as full and gorgeous as ever, a true confederate. Now that secret tree and I had a secret of our own.
I did everything I had read to do for those treelings, and my wedding anniversary gift turned out to be a tenderly-received token of love. Not all the cuttings rooted. Not all the cuttings which rooted survived. Later, we gave one rooted survivor to some dear friends, an elderly couple from Wales, with whom we sometimes shared our figs. In the end, we had one strong little fig tree remaining, just one out of ten, but it was enough. When we bought our home in 2001, we planted that tiny but determined twig on the east side, where it could easily be seen from the kitchen window, and where it might enjoy a bit of shelter near the house. I prayed for that tree, so many times I can’t count. I was afraid it wouldn’t come back after its first winter, but it did. I was afraid after its second winter as well, as that year was a particularly hard one, but the tree made it through. Now I have no fear for its well-being; I’m just grateful and amazed that it has defied every garden center guru who ever gave me a thumbs-down. It’s as tough as its mama. Last year our still-very small tree made a half-dozen or so figs, but they didn’t swell, didn’t let go their tight knotty greenness; they refused maturity. I wondered then if our tree was doomed to a fruitless, ornamental fate. This year the tree has been more vigorous and has made, what? a couple dozen figs in total? more? As I’ve already revealed, it has at last proven that it’s capable of seeing its reproductive projects to fruition. Maybe that’s another way this tree is a great symbol for Rob and me: every sweet thing in its own beautiful time. This fig’s not barren after all.
I carefully washed that first precious harvest. Rob and I took photos of it, like some little fawned-over starlet. We took turns holding and examining it. Ceremoniously we sliced it in half and ate it lazily with breakfast. Four years and a month we waited for this, just this one perfect, ripe, sensuous gift. It was worth it.