Over the years, fig tree has grown on homeowner

August 12, 2006|By ROB KASPER

This weekend I am going to trim that fig tree. Or maybe I'll do it next weekend. I have been putting off this chore all summer.

I am not sure why I am reluctant to start sawing. Over the years, my battles with the fig tree and its invasive branches have become family lore.

This is an urban tree, growing in our rowhouse backyard, fighting for space. Every year the fig tree pushes into the area near the alley where, according to my scheme of domestic order, our cars are supposed to be parked.

The fig tree has other ideas for that space and annually sends new branches southward, toward the sun, and into the parking pad.

Normally I meet this invasion with a few swift strokes of a pruning saw. But so far this summer, I have left the limbs alone. I guess this year's invaders were less of a nuisance than normal, a car could still fit underneath them. Or it could be that I am just getting soft.

It is strange how you can become attached to vegetation, but it happens. I like shade. The fig tree, with its broad leaves, provides top-quality penumbra.

When, after darting around all day in the glaring sun, I ease the car under the fig tree's canopy, I feel like I am entering a cool, comforting cave.

If a professional landscaper cast a critical eye on my backyard, I am pretty confident he or she would tell me I am guilty of letting my trees get too low and too leafy. I don't much care. I like the leafy look because it blocks out the world.

The fig tree bears fruit. As anyone who has had a fruit tree on his property knows, harvest time presents dramas and drawbacks.

The dramas play out when the figs ripen and assorted wildlife swoops in for a feast. Sometimes there are battles. There is usually noise, especially in the morning. Lately, birds of various feathers have greeted me as I make my way under the fig tree and head out to work.

So far I have identified redwing blackbirds and a catbird as members of the fig-tree chorus. I am on the lookout for another sighting of a yet unidentified yellow-breasted fig-tree visitor.

Bees also show up in great number, hiding in and around the fruit. I have learned to wear gloves when picking the fruit, a step that prevents getting stung by a surprised bee. A drawback to sharing space with a fig tree is that the tree and its birds leave deposits on anything parked under them.

For the next two weeks or so, the height of fig season, our cars will be decorated with white droppings from visiting birds and purple splotches from fallen figs. It used to irritate me greatly. Now that my cars and I are older, I live with it.

There is a unique feeling I think that comes from sitting in the shade of a fig tree. In a poem published recently in The Guardian newspaper in England, John Fuller wrote about how we "feel antiquity about us." His poem, The Relics, went on to describe a fig tree that "is the grandson of the fig-tree that was the great-great-grandson of the one that Petrarch knew." I am not familiar with the work of Petrarch, who, I read, was crowned poet laureate in Rome in the 1341. But I gather he, too, was a fan of fig trees.

Everyone says that Maryland is sleepy during August. The traffic is lighter than normal. Offices empty out as people squeeze in a few days of vacation before the school year starts.

But in a fig tree, August is frenzied. Ripe fruit arrives with the sudden fury of a summer thunderstorm. Birds and bees battle. The air is thick with the aroma of fermentation.

So I probably won't trim the fig tree this weekend, or the next one.

I will wait. I will watch the birds and the bees. I will sit in the primal shade and think about our ancestors. Adam and Eve, I have been told, had a fig tree in their yard.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

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