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The Paw Paws Are Growing

            In the midst of a lot of drama this summer (doctor visits and surgery and jury duty, oh my!), I’ve been keeping my eye on the paw paw tree for a sense of hope and stability. And it’s been working. We have eight or nine paw paw fruit on our tree, some in pairs but mostly singles, and every week they grow a little bigger as if they’re being inflated by a bicycle pump when I’m not looking.

            I don’t visit the tree each time I walk the dogs, because I follow the shade wherever I can find it and sometimes the tree is in full sun (good for the tree, bad for me, and my heat intolerance and tendency to sun poisoning), but I check on it at least once a day, and carefully duck under branches and around paw paw leaves to look at the growing fruit.

            It helps to have a calm, gradual, positive thing in my life, while I have to do a lot of things that are (way) out of my comfort zone. The paw paw tree has been that reassuring thing this summer – that, and the dogs: Ellie’s sweet, loving face when she cuddles up next to me and asks for head scratchies, and Cricket’s great joy when she sees Kevin, the mini Golden Doodle, coming her way. The good things don’t make the bad things (the news) or the scary things (surgeries) go away, but they give me the strength to keep going, and I feel so lucky for that.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

The Mama Bird

            There was a mama bird in the rhododendron bush again. I have pictures, from years ago, of a robin’s nest in the same bush: from the little blue eggs to the baby birds as they grew and stretched and learned how to fly. But the rhododendron bush has grown much bigger over the years, and the current robin built her nest further inside and a little too high for me to get a glimpse inside the nest, even with my phone. But I loved watching her build her nest, and watching it grow taller and sturdier each day. She mostly wove in branches, but she also took other materials from the yard to add softness to the inside.

The previous robin family

            I could see the mama bird throughout the day, each time I took the dogs out for a walk, and she would be sitting on her nest, chin up at one side, tail up at the other side, so proudly guarding and warming her eggs, turning like a sundial throughout the day. I made a point of greeting her each time, and wishing her good luck, and asking her when the babies would be born, though she never answered me. There’s something about baby birds and their rubbery, alien-like vulnerability that makes me feel so hopeful.

            My neighbors and I would check in with each other to share news of the mama bird, sharing our thoughts about her marvelous nest building skills, and her ability to ignore our dogs. No one else was able to get a picture of her either, as far as I know.

            But then she was gone. One neighbor was tall enough to check inside the nest, after a few days of not seeing her, and he said that there were no broken egg shells, no signs of habitation at all. He said he hoped that meant she had taken her eggs somewhere else, maybe somewhere further out of human reach; but she’d spent so much time building the nest, and she’d spent so much time sitting on the nest, that it seemed unlikely, to me, that she would pack up the whole family and move at such a late date.

            I don’t know what happened. Maybe another bird came along and stole her eggs, or maybe the eggs fell out of the nest and another animal carried them off. Or maybe it was a false pregnancy from the beginning. When I was younger, I had a dog who had a lot of false pregnancies. Dina, a black lab mix, would create a nest for herself underneath my parents’ bed, scratching the carpet for nesting material until all that was left of the carpet was the webbing underneath. She was convinced that she was about to have puppies, and she even produced some milk, but there were never any puppies. The repeating cycle of expectation and loss overwhelmed her, with the hormones rushing through her body making her eyes glassy with confusion. I felt Dina’s grief in my own body and it has always stayed with me.

Miss Dina in later life

            Around the same time that the mama bird was creating her nest this spring, and beginning to roost, flowers blossomed on the pawpaw tree, twenty or so feet away. And then, after the mama bird disappeared, the deep red pawpaw flowers fell to the ground, leaving behind the beginnings of pawpaw fruit, little clusters that looked like hands starting to stretch out. We had our first homegrown, ripe, paw paw fruit last year, and I’d like to think this year we might have two, or even three.

The pawpaw hand.

            It’s painful to feel hopeful so often and have my hopes dashed, like Dina and her false pregnancies, and yet I’ve found that it’s even more painful to try to live without hope. It’s sad to think that the mama bird lost her babies, or never had them in the first place, but it would be even harder to have never seen her sitting on her nest, dreaming of her future, in the first place. And watching the small pawpaw fruit start to appear fills me with wonder, independent of whether or not they become full grown fruit; though I’d prefer to have a small harvest by the end of the growing season, of course. But just the harvest, without the hours and days and months of hope leading up to it, wouldn’t be enough. The feeling of hope, more than anything else, is really the point.

“Uh, we prefer the food.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?         

My First Homegrown Pawpaw Fruit

            The one and only Pawpaw fruit fell from the big Pawpaw tree during a recent rain storm; not even the most vigorous storm, which meant the fruit was almost ready to fall on its own. It was still a little too green and a little too hard to eat, so we waited a few more days to let it ripen. With only one fruit from a whole tree it almost felt too precious to eat, and I worried I’d do something wrong: forget to take pictures, cut it open too soon, eat it all myself!

My first homegrown pawpaw fruit (tissue box shown for size reference)

            I waited, impatiently, touching it once a day to see if it had gotten softer, but mostly waiting until I could smell it; that was the real test. At first only the dogs could smell that distinct pawpaw aroma coming from the fruit, but then, if I put my nose almost against the green, mottled skin, I could start to smell it too. When I could finally smell the pawpaw from a few feet steps away, I knew it was ready. Or at least I hoped.

Cricket sniffing the pawpaw

            I dithered, though, because I was afraid that I’d exaggerated the memory of the pawpaw fruit in my mind. It had been fifteen years since my last bite and I worried that I had distorted the reality of it into something better than it could possibly be.

            But I didn’t want to let it sit there so long that it would rot, so I finally brought it into the kitchen and placed it on a cutting board, and, of course, took a picture. I tried to cut it in half, because I wanted to share it equally with Mom, but the seeds made it impossible to cut straight through. I had to accept that there is no fairness in the splitting of pawpaws, and, also, I was impatient, so I cut around the seeds and gave a small piece to Mom, and took a small piece for myself, and finally got to taste a pawpaw again.

Cut pawpaw, in bad lighting
Pawpaw seeds

            And it was delicious! The sweetness was more gentle and complex than I’d remembered, and the texture was perfect, soft but firm, and not slimy or mealy at all. It was perfect.

            The only problem was that in such a small pawpaw there were more seeds than fruit, or so it seemed, and after I’d removed the five almond-sized seeds and peeled the skin and shared half with Mom, there were only a few bites left. And then there was a wave of sadness, that the experience was over and that I’d have to wait another year, at least, to try it again. But after fifteen years of waiting for this one piece of fruit, and realizing that it was worth the wait, and knowing now that my tree could produce fruit, I decided that I could wait another year for my next bite.

            In the meantime, I cleaned the seeds and packed them in a Ziploc bag in the fridge (the article Mom found online said that we needed to add moss, not too damp and not too dry, to create the perfect pawpaw seed environment in the bag, but I left that part to her). So now the seeds are sitting in their bag in the fridge, waiting until they’re ready to be planted. And my wild pawpaw grove is building its strength as the saplings learn to stand straighter and taller every day. And the big pawpaw tree is readying for winter, its leaves starting to turn light green with a little bit of yellow here and there. Soon the leaves will all turn yellow, and then fall to the ground, and the tree will shiver through winter and start to leaf again in the spring.

Pawpaw Tree Fall 2021

And maybe next year we will have more than one fruit, so we can share the pawpaws with our friends, which is, really, the whole point.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Pawpaw Fruit

Big Bird the Pawpaw Tree

            In May, after reading my pawpaw essay out loud in a zoom, and then posting it on the blog, I continued to check on my pawpaw trees, as usual. I watched my pawpaw grove starting to leaf, the skinny little trees swarmed the area; their trunks ranged from a fingernail wide to the size of a dime, but they were there.

One tiny pawpaw tree starting to leaf

            And then I went over to the big, fourteen-year-old pawpaw tree that looms over the back yard, searching for sun and attention. It kind of reminds me of a Sesame Street creature, like a shaggy green version of Big Bird that prefers to stay in one place. As the big tree was starting to leaf, I noticed that there were some green clumps that weren’t growing into leaves; instead they looked suspiciously like tiny pawpaw fruits. That seemed so unlikely though, since we did nothing special to fertilize the pawpaw flowers this year, like moving the sticky pollen from one flower to another with a Q-tip, now that we only had one mature tree to work with.

Pawpaw fruit?

            But I kept watching, and at one point I counted eight clumps, some with only one green bump, and some with six or seven protrusions. As the pawpaw leaves grew bigger, the little fruit clumps became harder to see, but I could still count maybe five, and then maybe three; and I could still see that one big clump with what looked, now, like four or five green protrusions on it.

Pawpaw fruit or bird foot?

            I checked every few days, but especially after a storm or a visit from the gardeners, and by late June I could only find one fruit, not even a clump, just a single green bump on one of the lower branches of the tree. Mom reassured me that there were probably more on the higher branches, hidden by the now-enormous leaves, but I wasn’t convinced.

            Instead, I checked on my one pawpaw fruit every day – despite the old adage, revised a bit, that a watched pawpaw never grows. I watched it just to make sure it was still there, worried that a heavy rain, or a bird, or a visit from the gardeners would knock it down. And it kept growing – like a long thin balloon gradually filling up with air, growing a belly almost like a fat green banana.

Fat Green Banana Pawpaw

            And then, one day, when I went out to visit my one pawpaw fruit and take a picture to mark its growth – like a proud parent marking a child’s height against the kitchen door – I looked up and saw another pawpaw fruit. It was high up and half hidden by the leaves, but it was much, much bigger than the one on the lower branch, and instead of one pregnant belly it had two bellies, like a big green peanut. Even zooming in as close as my camera could get, every picture of the newly found pawpaw fruit was blurry and unconvincing, and I worried that it was just a trick of the light, but each day I found it again, with wonder.

Big Green Peanut Pawpaw hiding

            I’m sure I give too much metaphorical weight to these pawpaws – and therefore give them too much power to disappoint me – but the hope I feel when I see the new trees sprouting up, or now when I look at these slow growing pawpaw fruit, I think: good things are possible. I think: patience will be rewarded. I think: maybe the good stuff is just around the corner, and if I keep putting one foot in front of the other I will get there.

            The danger of the metaphor is that these two lone pawpaw fruits will die prematurely, or taste disgusting, or some other catastrophe will come along and convince me that my hope was misplaced and I should relax into my natural cynicism and just raise my dose of antidepressants and get on with survival. But the fact that I make these metaphors at all tells me something about my deeply ingrained hope – it’s there, and it will be there. My instincts will always lead me on a search for signs of possibility, for something to hope for. And if I can’t find it in the pawpaws, I’ll find it somewhere else.

After another storm, I went out to check on the pawpaw fruit, and the smaller one, the fat green banana, was gone. It was probably knocked loose by the rain and then carried off by one of the many animals that make our backyard their home (squirrels, birds, raccoons, voles, cats, and of course, Cricket and Ellie). But the big green peanut was still there, and, who knows, maybe there will be more pawpaw fruits hiding in the upper branches. Or maybe not. Either way, I’ll find my hope wherever I can get it.

“We didn’t eat the pawpaw. We prefer chicken.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

I Had Two Pawpaw Trees

 

I had two pawpaw trees, but now I only have one. The new gardeners decided that the trees were in their way; they had already cut down the first pawpaw tree when Mom looked out the window of her bedroom and screamed.

I had no idea what was going on, because I was still sleeping (afternoon naps are a thing). I heard the small scream and then the dogs barking like crazy so I got up. The first thing I saw was a puddle of pee on my exercise mat. I assume Ellie did that when she heard Grandma scream, but it could have been sitting there for a few minutes. I had to focus on cleaning up the pee, so I couldn’t ask Cricket why she was standing at our apartment door barking her head off.

img_0510

“Where did Grandma go!”

E pre groom

Loud noises make me pee, Mommy.

Then the doorbell rang, and it was Mom, because she’d run outside so quickly that she forgot her key to the building. That’s when I found out what had happened. Between the scream and the doorbell, Mom had been running across the lawn to convince the gardeners to leave the second Pawpaw tree alone, and then dragging the murdered tree out to the woods, to prepare it for a proper burial.

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Pawpaw branches awaiting burial

I wasn’t taking the information in. I looked out the front door of our building and the bigger pawpaw tree was still there, but fifty feet closer to me, there was a hole. Who cuts down the trunk of a tree like it’s the errant limb of a Forsythia?

The pawpaw trees were both twelve years old and just beginning to flower. My hope was that, very soon, the flowers would lead to fruiting. Actually, we had the tiny beginnings of pawpaw fruit earlier in the summer; a little clump of four pawpaws. I didn’t want to write about it until I knew if the fruit would survive, and within a week, they were gone. We thought they must have been wiped out by heavy rains, but it turns out that the gardeners had knocked down the fragile baby fruit when they were mowing the lawn, and that’s when they decided that the overhanging bushes and trees would have to go. Except, no one mentioned this to us.

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Pawpaw flowers

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clump of baby pawpaws

I was angry, and ranting, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but there was nothing I could do.

The powerlessness is what overwhelms me. My mother is the president of our co-op board and no one even told her that the trees were in danger, let alone asked her opinion, or her permission, to take them down. Up until this year we had two maintenance men who knew the trees and knew who to ask when there was a problem with them. They figured this out early, because they’d accidentally knocked down our third pawpaw tree soon after it had been planted in place. But one of the maintenance men retired recently, and the co-op hired a gardening company to come in once a week to make life easier for the remaining maintenance man. The first time they came, Mom told them to stay away from the pawpaw trees, but they seem to have forgotten.

The trees should have had a ribbon around them. Both trees used to be marked, after the incident with the third tree way back when, but we forgot all about it. The trees were so solid, and so tall, that it didn’t occur to us that someone would try to cut them down.

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Pawpaw standing tall

Within minutes, Mom was calling around for advice on how to fertilize a lone tree; and if there was a way to save any part of the murdered tree; or if you could buy a five or six year old pawpaw tree instead of one of the two year olds, to cut down on the long wait for maturity; or, maybe we could borrow pollen from someone else’s pawpaw tree to fertilize the one tree we have left, next year?

The trees were born a few months before Cricket, and they lived in the kitchen until they were toddlers and ready to live outside, still in their pots. When the trees were planted in our new yard, seven years ago, they took root and decided to stay.

pawpaw new home 007

Pawpaw toddler getting ready to go outside

puppy in October 034

Cricket, same age

That tree was loved, that’s all I can say.

IMG_1053

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 teenager 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 it’s true. Izzy’s father then sends 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?