The Secret Life of Plants (and figs)


It's the end of fig season. I've been buying a basket of figs at the farmers market every week. Last summer I indulged in cherries. In the past, at the end of each summer, I always felt like I didn't eat as many cherries as I wanted. So last year, I decided to EAT ALL THE CHERRIES. It was very satisfying.

I had a tiny fig tree in a large pot for four or five years. It looked more like an upright stick, with some leaves on top and maybe yielding five or six figs a year - a complete imbalance between effort and payoff. I would follow along for months as the tiny figs developed until they got to the right size, and then slowly soften to ripeness and start drooping over and then finally finally can be picked. Each fig was like biting into a jar of jam.

This past summer there were five figs on the tree. One morning I saw one of the figs was missing, only the telltale white stem left. So I immediately picked the other ones - they were ripe, if not ripe to the point of oozing sweetness yet. The next morning, the fig tree - the entire thing - was gone! Dug up and taken. It took me a moment to register - a heart-stopping, what's wrong with this picture moment - before I realized it. I talked to all the neighbors, they talked about it amongst themselves, everyone was in disbelief. My mom thought I should put up a sign in the pot where the fig tree had been, berating the thief - I had the same idea but thought it should just say "WHY??"

I hope it is planted somewhere in the ground where it can finally stretch out its roots, and it's taken care of, and they know it's deciduous (not dead)! I would rather it be productive than just thrown away - that would be the worst, the most pointless. And in some ways, it's a relief to be unburdened of it. It was never going to grow as it should, and come on, only five figs a year?

I tried reading the Secret Life of Plants a while ago but couldn't get through it. A little too woo woo. I picked it up because it was mentioned in a New Yorker article about plant intelligence which was completely eye-opening. (If you haven't yet, go read it now!) How they have adapted to their non-mobile state, how they communicate with each other, how they are the most advanced of chemists. It made me think of plants as mythological monsters you can't kill - you cut it into pieces, and each piece becomes a whole new plant. I read up to the part where people who had lived with plants were then put into separate rooms, and the plants could sense pain being inflicted onto the person. I do think that the whole universe is vibrations and frequencies. But the experiments were starting to seem rather un-scientifically rigorous.

Later on the day after the fig tree was taken, I remembered that I had woken up in the middle of the night, with a sensation that I have never had before and can only describe as being ripped out of sleep. A little like how Uma Thurman wakes up in the hospital in Kill Bill. I can't help but think it was the same moment the fig tree was ripped out of the ground.