Sharing the Fig Tree

In July, the figs on the tree ripen. Finches, starlings, doves, woodpeckers, and grackles feed on the figs. For years, I fought them off. Now I’ve come to accept them. The birds need the figs because it’s a source of food and water when the heat destroys other food sources.

figsripeEarly in the morning, while the birds are feasting on figs, I hose down the walkway and scrub the ruined fruit off the cement. By noon the fig hulls will be as dry and hard as walnuts and the seeds will be stuck to the cement.

Now that I’ve accepted sharing as part of having a tree in my yard, I also gather  figs from the tree and make jam. I can’t eat the jam, but it’s wonderful to see others enjoy it. Same with the figs. There is enough for both uses

And both uses require work. Watering the tree, fertilizing it, trimming it. Picking up the fig leftovers, scrubbing the sidewalk. Gathering the figs, washing them, cleaning them, cutting, cutting and bottling them. It’s work with a purpose.

We expect trees to be work. We expect food to be work. But somehow, when it comes to our creative work, we think of it as play. And are surprised when it takes work to nurture it, maintain it, and yes, reap the benefits. Creativity is somehow supposed to be immune from the focus, goals and results of the rest of our lives. It’s supposed to be fun and ephemeral. Most of the time, creativity is hard work, but satisfying work. And, like ripening figs, sweet and worth it.

—Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and teacher. Join her in Madeline Island on July 22-26 for a deep writing and intuitive art class. Or in Phoenix on July 13 for a class on Monsoon Papers and accordion folders.


14 thoughts on “Sharing the Fig Tree

  1. The hard work of maintaining a creative practice can sometimes feel like play, but there are some parts that are really, really hard work – the pushing through, “I can’t do this.” “I don’t want to figure out how to do this.” “Toooo hard.” Ah, but the rewards when you’ve pushed through all the resistance, the hard parts, and you see the fruition of work. Sweet, indeed! (Just like figgy jam!)

  2. I had no idea that figs looked so much like pears. I thought that they were more like soft Brazil nuts.
    Oh, Quinn! I just saw the news on the Weather Channel about the firefighters killed north of Phoenix and how bad the fire is. Stay safe. And prayers for everyone involved. .

    • Figs are shaped like pears. There are hundreds of different kinds–the ones on the tree in the back are Totato–small and green. When they turn yellow and droop, they are ready. They are perfectly ripe for just hours, and then turn brown and mushy. The ones on the new tree in the front are Turkey Figs–they will turn brown and edible in September.

      The firefighters are a terrible loss. Some years ago, we had a house fire, and I will never forget how firefighters raced into our burning house, perfectly calmly, and brought out one of the cats. (The other two hid and survived and all three are with us still). One of them grabbed a can of propane that the roofers had left on the roof and tossed it to another firefighter three stories below. Men and women who walk toward the flames have my greatest respect. The fire is about 90 miles north, but 4,000 feet higher than we are, and Ponderosa Pine stands are being devastated. It’s heartbreaking for those who have lost their homes and those who have lost their lives.

  3. Oh yes. I cringe when I see people say they are going into their studios to “play”. It is work. Hard work. Rewarding work. Play, never. Thank you for confirming that.

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