Control and the Fig Tree

It’s the same battle every June and early July. The birds begin to eat the figs in the tree, just slightly before they ripen. They don’t eat the whole fig, they just poke big holes in them, ruining them. They don’t eat the figs just at the top of the tree, the ones I can’t reach. They eat as many as they can.

Netting the tree isn’t possible. Hanging CDs or strips of foil in the tree makes no difference. The first two years, I’d get up at 4:30 a.m. and stand guard with a broom. The second day, the birds figured out the length of my reach and ate just out of it.

I don’t mind the woodpeckers and hummingbirds, but I hate the starlings and grackles.

This year, I realized it was futile to fight, and silly to prefer some birds over others. They are professional wildlife who are hungry, and there is available food in a time of scarce food and water in the desert. Now I rise at 5 a.m. and pluck whatever soft, sweet figs I can snatch from the birds early in the morning. At the end of the day, I pick up the detritus of figs, the fruit already dry and hard as walnut shells from the sun. Cleaning up controls the bug population. I don’t mind the ants, but there are three-inch crunchy bugs I don’t want to encourage.

Have I given up? No. I have adapted. I cannot change the nature of birds, nor do I want to deprive them of food at a hard time of year.

And this adaptation has seeped into other parts of my life. I no longer expect to change client behavior. I no longer become frustrated and wish that my aggressive and harsh clients would become interesting and appealing. I learn to accept them, or I don’t work with them, weighing the consequences carefully.

And I appreciate the small amount of fig jam that I can make each year. I am grateful that I have the tree, and that the magic of fruit calls the birds. You don’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you get what you need. The Rolling Stones must have known my fig tree.

Quinn McDonald is slowly giving up the need to control both the fig tree and the birds. She’s still working on herself, too.

19 thoughts on “Control and the Fig Tree

  1. This is a really beautiful story. You’re inspirational, and it wold be lovely if more people could observe the world and learn from it in this way. As a species (in the west mostly) we need to change our attitude and outlook of everything in the world being there for our pleasure and disposal, it is not. Your relationship with your tree seems to have taken you on quite an insightful journey 🙂

  2. I am quite struck by your mention of accepting not only the cute hummers, but also the messy starlings and grackles. Like accepting people of all kinds. The smart, the ambitious, the generous, the ne’er-do-wells, the mentally ill, the indigent. You don’t have to befriend them all, or even like them, but you can still accept them, as it is their world too. Birds, people, all living things — that really struck me.

  3. Sounds a bit like the saying, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
    I had starlings trying to nest in the vent from the bathroom last spring. So there was me, very early in the morning, up a ladder in my pyjamas poking back the netting they managed to rip out on a daily basis. In the end I spread the netting with red curry paste! They decided to move to my shed and build a nest in a small bucket – what a mess – they soon got short shrift from there too!

  4. Your story reminds me of a neighbour we once had. He made his own method to keep the birds away from his plumtrees. He used 8-10 empty cans and made them to one unit. Fasten it all in a rope which he hung over a branch in the plumtree. Every now and then he pulled the rope so that the cans scared the birds. Worked well for him as far as I know.

  5. I was in Portugal recently, and was intrigued by the fruit buds softly and greenly ripening on the fig trees. They ripen later in Europe – in August – but are already round and green and full. They look lush. The leaves look lush. Coming to fruition. The figs don’t have to work hard to become what they are meant to be. And they can’t control whether they are eaten by birds, insects or you. They bud, grow, have their moment of fulness, and are gone, part of everything else in the universe.

    • Your evocative and beautiful writing is true. It’s all a cycle. I planted another fig tree in my front yard. This one will ripen later also. I’m amazed that fig trees have adapted to the desert, but they grew in the desert in Biblical times, so why not here and now? They don’t bloom, which is one of the cool things about fig trees. And they give us wonderful figs. That’s a joy in itself.

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