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The fig trees of autumn

17 Sep

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I never should have left Brooklyn.

Jersey was okay. It is the Garden State, after all. And my small plot of Hudson County earth produced respectable amounts of fine vegetables the years that I spent there.

But Maine? Completely different story.

Most irritating to me is the climate’s absolute refusal to accommodate fig trees in their natural habitat—that is, the ground.

Those of us who wish to grow figs here in Plant Hardiness Zone 5, admittedly a very small group, must instead keep our trees confined to pots. These pots may spend the warm-weather months outdoors but if left out in the harsh Maine winter, the trees will freeze solid and most probably die.

Not so in the land where I was raised.

In horticultural terms Brooklyn, New York, is known as Plant Hardiness Zone 7, meaning that its coldest average temperature in winter is 20 degrees warmer than it is here in Southern Maine. Fig trees grow all across Brooklyn, always have and always will. They grow in gardens, alongside front porches, behind wire fences, even out of concrete sidewalks. Sometimes the people who tend to these trees cover them in winter for protection, sometimes they don’t. In my experience, which is meaningful, the results aren’t all that different.

Fig trees are allowed to live freely in the grounds of Kings County.

Here in Maine my fig trees—four of them currently, though once there were as many as eight—spend late October through March in an insulated garage, tucked against one of two motorcycles that also go dormant in winter. In early April I move the trees to a sun-filled window seat in an upstairs bedroom where they can slowly move from dormancy back to life. The trees do not leave the comfort and protection of my home until well after the last threat of frost has passed, mid-June normally.

I don’t dare keep the fig trees on my own property in summer, as the wildlife that roam freely and hungrily all around would strip the trees bare well before their fruit has had a chance to ripen. Instead, my fig trees spend their summers in a fenced-in community garden a few miles from my home, the same garden where I grow tomatoes and garlic and other vegetables, and where unobstructed sunlight is abundant all season long.

I transport the fig trees to and from their summer residence in shifts, as their size prevents them from fitting together in any vehicle that I own currently. Sometimes the trees return to my home in autumn after a good season, but many times, as with this season, they do not.

You many wonder, then, why a person might put himself through all the trouble.

I wonder the same thing myself, more often than is gratifying.

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But then there moments like these.

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And these.

I am a hopeless sentimentalist. Plain and simple.