There was a short time when I was very young, that we lived in a house in the middle of an orange grove. For what looked like miles to me, all you could see was orange trees in every direction. And right in the middle was a small circle of houses, and in the middle of those, another house. We lived in the one right in the middle of everything. And there was a huge fig tree to one side.
Getting to the house meant driving, or walking though it was a long walk, down a dirt drive. And at the other end of the drive was a house where the owner of the land lived. And right across the street was a small Mom n’ Pop store. We lived there when it was very warm, most likely late summer or early fall and the air was always still inside the grove, no matter how much the wind blew out on the highway. But, back to the fig tree.
I loved that tree. It’s strong branches hung almost perfectly horizontal, and not far apart, so my short arms and legs could reach from one to the next. If I climbed high enough, I could feel the breeze, and see past the grove, to the highway, the houses, and farther away, the town.
I was the only small child who lived in that grove. Everyone else was way too old to spend time with me. So I entertained myself for hours, smelling the orange blossoms, making leis with needle, thread, and oleander blossoms, making things of the dirt, playing with my dog. And climbing the fig tree. It was such a safe place that my mom didn’t worry about me much. I was free to roam–she set limits at certain trees, or a particular spot on the drive–and play at will. I was fearless.
You can imagine Mom’s surprise when she called me and I answered from two or three stories up. “What are you doing up there?” she asked in a tone that said I better move it. I shimmied down the tree as I answered, “Climbing and looking.” When I got to the bottom I saw fire in Mom’s turquoise eyes. And you haven’t seen fire in eyes unless you’ve seen turquoise eyes looking out from the red skin of a half Black Foot Native American and half German woman.
We went in to lunch and I watched cartoons for a while, but it didn’t take long before I was ready to go back outside. “No climbing the fig tree,” Mom said. “The only reason to climb a tree is to eat the fruit.”
Sounded like an idea. What do figs taste like anyway? Only one way to find out. Up the tree I went, tongue working as hard as arms and legs. I found a comfortable place to sit, and picked a fig. It was firm, but not hard, and had a dark rich color I couldn’t even think to name, but it was pretty. I took a bite. Very sweet. I could do this. Several times.
The quiet of the yard drew my mom back outside, calling and looking. “I’m up here,” I called back. “I told you not to climb the tree,” she said in a serious voice. I started down again, quite confident that I had a good argument. “You said the only reason to climb a tree was to eat the fruit. Figs are good. ” I showed her my sticky hands. For that I got a swat on the bottom. And diarrhea.
The moral of the story is, if you climb trees you get a tummy ache. Which I seem to have taken to heart because I’m now scared of heights.