Why A Little Fig Tree Is A Big Deal


We bought a small fig tree the other day. It’s about four feet tall, a beautiful shape, with three infant figs hidden along the stems.

Big deal, right?

Yes, it is.

I haven’t had a fig tree since 1991, when I left  my house in Oakland and moved to Fairfax, in Marin County. The Oakland place was my first house. A tiny thing with a couple of other hovels in the yard that eventually, scrounged dollar by scrounged dollar, became a cottage and an office. I bought it for a song—I think it was “Pennies from Heaven”—in 1978.

Before I even moved in I knocked down a wall between the two front rooms, bringing the total number down to three and a skinny built-in porch.   I hand-carried two-by-fours from a demolition site on the corner and used them to build a fence across the front to keep my two dogs and two cats safe.

There was an over-pruned fig in the yard and a couple of healthier ones hanging over the side fence from a neighbor’s yard.

My standard poodle, Pepper, used to sit on the little front porch and listen for the figs to hit the ground. He loved them. He loved fruit and vegetables and, it turned out, pate.  Pepper and I lived there happily with his adopted brother, a miniature named Smokey, and my two cats, Yossarian and Sapphie, a brother-sister team I’d brought from Chicago, along with Pepper, in a rented van that crashed outside of Santa Rosa New Mexico. I wasn’t driving.

All four of them got old in that house and are buried in the yard. Pepper at 16, blind Smokey at the same age a few months after Pepper, who was his father, brother, and guide dog, and the cats—she at age 20, he at 16.

I wrote my first book in the office hovel, after using the last of the two-by-fours to give it an actual floor.

My cousin, a brother to me really, came to live there, fleeing Minneapolis and the wife who had drawn him into her Colombian drug trade, fleeing his shame and embarrassment over his time in  Leavenworth.

I gave him the office hovel and moved my writing to the built in porch.  It took him years to kill himself with drugs and alcohol. Some time after I’d cut him loose.

I was living in that house when Dan White killed Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, and the young president of the board of supervisors, now the senior senator, made the announcement, choking on her tears.

We had the World Series earthquake. My mother died. I got and survived breast cancer twice.  I pined for the woman I’d left behind in Chicago, who is here with me now.

I wrote several more books.

My then partner wanted a child and we found a beautiful baby girl who is a grown woman now.

I ate homemade fig jam. I grew vegetables in the big garden. I hung the wash on a line in the backyard. I worked at various things. I wrote.

I listened to the figs fall to the ground.

And so yes, having a fig tree is a very big deal.










5 Responses

  1. Shelley, this is already a poem. Do consider fiddling a tiny bit with the format and then sending it out. You could use the same title. Lovely.

  2. Thank you so much. You always make me feel good about my blogs and I’m very grateful. I have to admit I haven’t had time to read anything but the work of my students and consulting clients in many months but I’ll certainly start reading yours.

    Send it out? I suppose I could but I can’t find the time to finish my current book. Got to get a break in here somewhere.

    Thanks again. S

  3. Condolences about the time taken by work other than writing. This post is truly evocative, a spare telling that is rich with imagery and content. Sometimes things we write during a few hours stolen from all those other things that MUST be done, are very powerful, indeed.

  4. I accept the condolences gratefully. And I so appreciate your take on my writing. Nothing I love more than an audience of writers. Thanks–I nedede that!

  5. oops. Rushing again. I mean needed.

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