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The Paw Paw Flowers

 

About twelve years ago, I bought a box of paw paws. I had to order them from Ohio, during the fruit’s very short season in September, and commit to eating most of them myself, because they were a bit too funny looking and odd smelling to share (believe me, I tried).

paw paws

Paw paws (this is not my picture)

Someone had told me about paw paws, waxed rhapsodic about their sweetness, made endless metaphors out of their shape and elusiveness and the speed with which they turn black and rot. I wanted to like these damned things, but at the same time I was angry at them, for being so much more interesting, to him, than I would ever be.

Of course it’s all about heartbreak. Why else would a fruit that barely has a season capture my imagination so thoroughly that I had to order a whole damned box of them from Ohio?

They arrived, wrapped individually in newspaper, because they are so fragile and easily bruised. Like me? Like him? The metaphor never ends. They are filled with a row of almond shaped seeds that you have to dig out or suck on to get the flesh that clings stubbornly to them. And the fruit has to be eaten with a spoon. You can’t peel it like an orange, or slice it like an apple, or bite straight into it like a strawberry. It’s work. And it’s messy. And it is sweet and custardy and sort of tastes like peaches and bananas and mangoes and vanilla have been tossed together into a blender.

paw paw seeds

(Also not my picture)

I saved the seeds in the freezer, like the instructions in the box told me to do (because paw paw growers are by their very nature proselytizers), and then, sometime in late winter, when it wasn’t really warming up yet, I planted the seeds in big pots in the kitchen, and set them by the window sill, and watched. The pots needed protection from the lingering cold, so I wrapped them in scarves. And then, like the Talmudic sages said the angels do for every seed, I stood over the pots and whispered, “Grow, grow.”

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My dancing paw paws!

The seedlings were tall and full of personality and five or six of them even survived long enough to be planted outdoors once the weather was warm enough. We kept them in their pots at first, though, so that they could come back inside if they needed to.

Three, maybe four, survived the first year and grew into little trees. Three trees came with us when we moved here five years later. One suffered a horrible gardening accident, but two lived, and settled into their new surroundings and continued to grow. They got taller and taller, their trunks started to thicken, their leaves extended out like shiny green fans and then paled to yellow in the fall, and disappeared for the winter, and reappeared in the spring. They kept getting taller, and healthier, but there was no fruit yet, not even a flower.

We got impatient and ordered two new baby trees, because a New York State expert in paw paws said we needed to have at least two trees in close proximity in order for fertilization to occur, and the two we had were too far apart.

But the baby trees we bought were crushed in the shipping process and never really recovered, though we watched over them hopefully for a season. And then last summer, after the baby trees had given up completely, my two stalwart twelve year old trees, that have been with me since they were just almond shaped seeds buried in the dirt, flowered.

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The flowers were small, and a deep burgundy brown color. And pretty quickly the flowers dried up and flew away, and the leaves turned yellow again and the trees went to sleep again for another winter.

And this year, the flowers are bigger and brighter, and there are more of them, and they are filled with enough powdery, sticky pollen that we were able to transfer it from the flowers of one tree to the flowers of the other, by Q-tip.

I don’t know what will happen next. The trees aren’t especially muscular, and even if the fruit appears, the branches may not be up to holding the weight of it yet. But maybe soon. Maybe there will be paw paws in my backyard someday soon.

 

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Paw paw standing tall

Twelve years seems too long to wait for a piece of fruit, I know. But maybe the wait is the point. The patience, the slow growth. I mean, the metaphor works. The comparison to me, and turtle-slow growth is obvious. Maybe me and my paw paw trees will find our strength and come to fruition at the same time.

You never know.

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The girls are waiting.

 

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

Floracide, or Killing Your Dahlias

 

My mom takes her gardening so seriously that when the dahlia specialist in the next plot over from her at the community garden started killing off his less than perfect dahlias, she felt like he was killing living things, like small animals, maybe fish. She didn’t fall on the floor crying, or run at him with a gardening fork, which she would have done if he was slicing off the heads of small puppies instead of flowers, but she did feel the flower deaths in her gut, like a punch.

An imperfect Dahlia, on the chopping block.

An imperfect Dahlia, on the chopping block.

A bucket of imperfect Dahlias, saved, for the moment.

A bucket of imperfect Dahlias, saved from the compost pile.

This dahlia man clearly believes in killing off anything that is not competition worthy or perfect, even if it is beautiful. And my mom would prefer to keep everything, no matter how imperfect, even if the whole becomes chaotic as a result. I don’t know where I fall on this spectrum.

I’ve recently discovered dead heading. When the marigolds in our home garden were still flourishing, Mom told me to pluck off the dead and dying flowers, to make it possible for more to grow. There’s a satisfying snap to the decapitation of these flowers – like snapping off the end of a piece of asparagus. I was in danger of snapping off the heads of healthy flowers, just to feel the satisfaction of it, when there were no more dead ones left. I can get a little bit carried away. I was saved from becoming a flower killer by the overnight frost that knocked all of the flowers out in one shot.

The Marigolds, before the frost.

The Marigolds, before the frost.

Snapping the head off of this one would be bad, right?

Snapping the head off of this one would be bad, right?

There’s a piece of writing advice that’s often quoted, that you have to be willing to “kill your darlings” in order to make the whole piece of writing work. You shouldn’t hold on so tightly to the perfect sentence, or the scene you love, or the character who inspired you to write the book, if the book would work better without it. But I’m not sure. Sometimes, if you remove the thing you love most, the whole thing falls apart. I’ve been known to keep the one line I love in a piece, and trash the rest, because the heart of the thing is the most important part.

Cricket has been known to kill flowers. She doesn’t mean to, any more than she means to harm a cat or squirrel who runs past her. She wants to catch it and subdue it and then play with it. With plants, she wants to dig them up, and chew on them, and toss them in the air, and run after them. She likes their taste of green and dirt and bugs. She likes their crunch, and the different textures on her tongue. She plays with cherry tomatoes the way I used to play with a tiny bouncing ball from the treasure chest in the dentist’s office.

"Play with me, green thing!"

“Play with me, green thing!”

"Mine!"

“Leaf is mine!”

There’s something to be said for letting nature decide which plants to support and which ones to kill off, if only because the feeling of responsibility, and guilt, is too much for me. Winter is the natural death of the growing season. We grieve the loss, but we don’t feel guilty or responsible. The leaf storms at the end of the growing season are like a celebration, a wake for the leaves and flowers, with the dead and dying coming out to dance one last time.

The leaves are dancing!

The leaves are dancing!