Friday, May 14, 2010

The secrets of late spring

Isn't this amazing? Fig trees burst into leaf very quickly here, at least in our yard, bare trees transforming themselves into elegantly clothed, full emerald leaf in a matter of a few days. Very quickly afterward, the tiny fruit begins to appear. Is this, I wonder, a factor in the story of the Garden of Eden? Could the rapidity of the spring emergence of fig leaves be part of the reason they're cited as the flora with which nakedness was covered? It's not such a stretch if you're lucky enough to have a fig tree in your own garden.

As has been noted by other gardeners in the southeast this year (thank you, Ms. Moon) a more abundant spring is hard to recall. The long, cold winter seems to be giving us a spring of uncommon wealth. Our fig trees are evidence of this. We have three of them, the smallest of which has never borne fruit before. This year its small branches are covered with the tiny baby figs. What will we do with this bumper crop? In years gone by, when the crop of fruit was much smaller and our Mac still lived at home, he would simply EAT the figs as they appeared on the tree. In heavier years, we would pull the ripe ones off each day and drop them into a freezer bag. A couple of times I've taken the fruit of the different trees to work, where some of my colleagues simply eat them as quickly as I bring them in, and others have taken them home to make fig reductions to serve over pork chops or grilled chicken breasts. This year, I may finally have to take out the recipe box of Rodney's mother, Helen, in search of her recipe for fig preserves. Stay tuned, Surly Writer. I can think of nothing to which fresh figs can be compared for flavor or texture. For me they were as revelatory as fresh pomegranate seeds; not similar in flavor, texture, or dramatic color, but one of those small joys you find when you taste something completely new, undreamt of in your own mother's kitchen, and full of new possibilities.

The other secret of late spring here is finding out where the house wrens will nest. They return to nesting locations they've used before, but they also find new spots, and very quickly. If you leave a bucket of gardening tools in one place for a day or so, you may come back and find an amazingly well-contructed wren nest, and sometimes here will be a seriously annoyed-looking Mrs. Wren sitting on a nest, peeking out with a severe expression. Rodney has a sanding device in the garage, which has two arm-shaped openings. If you need to sand some kind of car part, you can put it inside the sander and place your hands into these openings to sandblast safely. A couple of years ago, a pair of wrens built a nest in the right hand side of the thing, seemingly overnight, and we watched from a careful distance as the eggs were incubated and the babies were fledged.

About two weeks ago as I got into the car, I noticed wrens nervously flitting around the garage, but it was early in the morning and I didn't think to mention it to Rodney or Dylan. A few days later, Rodney asked me if I'd noticed: there was a nest in the sand blaster. He had seen Mrs. Wren, sitting on her nest, glaring out of the hand opening at anyone who dared to look in at her. I looked for myself. Sure enough, there she sat, eyebrows drawn together like an extended "v", looking deeply offended. I know, I know: anthropomorphism run rampant, but these little songbirds are not to be taken lightly when they're nesting.

So here's the nest, from which Mr. and Mrs. Wren were momentarily absent. There are four tiny eggs, carefully cradled in a typically well-built wren nest floor plan. We'll keep an eye out and try to keep you posted on the magic of late spring here in north Florida. That is, of course, until the weather takes over, and I lose interest in being outside, which time span roughly aligns with hurricane season. Until then, nesting birds and gardenia buds and gradually ripening figs will be on offer. And in the deep summer, there's time to talk about shoes and ships and sealing wax, and whether pigs have wings...


  1. One of my fig trees tripled in size this year. Sadly, it does not get enough sun and I have no fruit on it yet. I am hoping though. I have a wonderful recipe for fig preserves- you must make some this year and I'm sure that your recipe is as good as mine. There is nothing as wonderful as fig preserves on biscuits or pancakes or (sinfully) good vanilla ice cream. I'm not kidding you.
    And the wrens- I have a mama sitting on a nest behind me on the porch as I write this.
    Aren't we lucky?
    Yes. We are.

  2. Oh, we are, indeed! Will you send me the recipe you have? I'd love to compare it to the one Rodney's mother left, especially since I secretly worry about my canning abilities. I'd also love to see the face of your Mrs. Wren, should you be willing to brave that scary face with your camera....

  3. Now I'm craving fresh figs. There is a pair of robins building a nest in the Japanese Maple in front of our house. So exciting


  4. Oh, boy, Michelle - robins on a nest! If you get any photos be sure to share. I think of robins as the harbingers of spring, surely, but it's as though they fly by, shout, "Hey, spring is coming!" and the continue on their way. If Ms. Moon's or Mrs. Christensen's recipes work out for me, perhaps there really will be fig preserve to share. Mmmm, hmmm. Love, love!

  5. Thank you for the link. You didn't have to do that. I was going to make a comment about the figs and wrens, but I was instead so awestruck by your writing in this post (any many others). I don't think I've mentioned this before, but you have an incredible voice and style to your words. You describe everything so vividly that I could almost imagine tasting the figs and hearing the beats of birds' wings.

    Just thought you might like to know how impressed I am with your writing.

  6. Michelle, it's my great pleasure to include links to writers whose work I admire and thinkers whose open hearts and voices make a tiny but unmistakable difference on the Great Big Internet, so you're very welcome. As to your kind comments, these are words I'll treasure for always. Coming from friends and loved ones, such comments are wonderful. Coming from peers, writers whose work one admires, the words are akin to an Academy Award. They have value even writers can't adequately put into words; at least this writer can't put it into words. Thank you. Thank you.


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