Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Death of a Loved One

From the "not quite back on the wine trail, yet" dept.

In a world where there are so many tragic events  ̶  from the father who lost his wife and daughter when he was 30 and raised his two sons as a single parent, only to lose a son when he became a grown up, to a young boy who, at 5, lost his father to tribal warfare in Ruanda ̶  what does the loss of one tree matter?

Earlier this month, crisscrossing Texas by car, time and again, I recall the morning I was driving from Dallas to Houston and saw a large, mature oak tree in a field that had toppled over from the rain. I was going 65-70 and as I saw the newly fallen giant, I felt a sharp pain inside. Still green, still hopeful from a Spring filled with energy, this tree wouldn’t see another autumn.

A few weeks later, driving by the same spot, the tree was brown and lifeless now. There was none of that “It‘s still green, it might just be sleeping on its side” pretend one does to internally forestall the inevitable reality of death.

Driving from Houston to Austin, around Bastrop, again the area was lush and verdant from a season of rainfall. A few years earlier, during drought, fires ripped through the area. As a reminder, thousands of charred, stripped poles dotted the landscape. Here, thousands died. And their lifeless trunks stood as their grave markers.

May, in Texas, has vanquished the drought that had loomed over us for several years. That is now the fate of California. And to gauge how bad the drought is, scientists have turned to the trees. Looking at the rings of blue oak trees, going back to the 13th century, and have determined nothing this extreme has been in play, for at least a millennia.

Yes, there are many important, urgent occurrences pushing up against all of us. So, why one tree, why would it impact any one?

I remember when I brought it home from the nursery. I was so proud to have found the little fig tree. It was in a gallon size container. It had only the simplest of markings on it, “Brown Turkey fig.” I had recently moved into our house and the side yard needed a tree. My grandparents in California had this wonderful fig tree in their back yard. I loved figs. It seemed right.

I look out the window where I am writing this and instead of those bright green leaves and the little baby figs that were sprouting out from the branches, not 24 hours ago, now there is nothing but the naked sky. It sickens me to think of how I found my fig tree. I went outside to check on something and noticed the branches were drooping rather low to the ground. We’d just had another torrential downpour, so I thought the branches were heavy with the weight of the water. And then I saw the tree was leaning, rather, propped against the house. I panicked. The tree stood maybe 12-14 feet tall; the double trunks were probably 14-16 inches in circumference. It was a heavy tree. I would not be able to push it back up, prop it with poles, wires and hope. Who knew if we were done with the rains yet?

A month, maybe six weeks, until harvest. Until the time when I would go out and chase away the birds from the sweet fruits. No more. Harvest is cancelled this year. The birds, and the humans, will have to search elsewhere for those wonderful pleasures.

I didn’t think about why my grandparents had a fig tree in their back year in California. They had other fruit and citrus trees back there as well. They ate from their back yard, as we do today in this now barren of fig tree year. I also had to cut down the little fig tree that I planted 6 years ago, a cutting a friend had brought back from Sardegna. Two fig trees lost, in the same month. Devastating, to this one.

Talking to a young man this morning at the local farmer’s market. He could relate. “I recently planted 5 acres with 500 peach trees. We lost 267 of them with the rains. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Is it one of insurmountable grief? Of course not. It’s nothing like when my wife died. But it is like the loss of a distant family member, of a pet, of someone you might not have known but who nonetheless was influential in your life, maybe like a President who was gunned down in the streets of Dallas. Maybe yes, maybe no.

The loss is raw and sharp right now. Over time, it will temper and soften. And from the stumps of the two trees, there is hope. Little leaves are sprouting back up. It’s not a total loss. But it’s a painful one in this moment, a tough pill to swallow, like the farmer said. And another lesson in the transitory nature of life in a universe that we have found ourselves immersed in, for the time being.

written and (unfortunately) photographed by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


Unknown said...

I'm sorry :( from their fragrance to their fruit, fig tree are a gift.

Tracie P

Thomas said...

I was going to console by saying fig trees are resilient, and then you mentioned the new leaves. Still, it is a big loss.

A few years ago, I got up one September morning and as I always did, I looked out the window at the wild peach tree that was there when we bought the place--it defied a walnut tree nearby, with its underground poisons that are supposed to prevent other fruit trees from surviving. The peach tree was full of near-ripe fruit, but on this morning, the tree lay sideways on the ground--ants had been gnawing at it from inside.

The tree was dead for sure, but it had just fallen over, and the peaches were edible. I picked all of them; then, I saved about four peach seeds to try to start a new tree--not an easy task. One of the four took and that tree is now seven years old and filled with fruit.

Hope is all we have, bolstered by a little work.

As for figs, they are second to sex, which is why I grow them in the Finger Lakes. It isn't easy. I have one tree in a greenhouse and one in a barrel that I wheel in every winter and putpout in spring. Brown turkeys.

The rare time I try to hide something from my wife is when the figs ripen!

maggie barrett said...

I just received your comment on my recent post at and decided to look you up. As a consequence I've been reading you and your followers for the past half hour! How rare to find something of such value
on the internet. Well done. And consider me a subscriber. Maggie Barrett.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks Tracie and jeremy.

Thanks Thomas...

Thanks Maggie, really love your blog as well, consider me a fan...

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