Banner year for fig trees means mess underfoot


THE FIGS ARE falling! The figs are falling! Every time I venture into the vicinity of the parking pad in our back yard I have a good chance of getting hit by a descending fig.

The two fig trees that reside there are having a banner year. This means that ripe figs, purple pieces of fruit about the size of golf balls, are dropping like hail.

Fresh figs are a culinary treasure. They have a delightful, fruity and slightly sweet flavor. But they can also be a nuisance.

I am reaching the point of being fed up with figs. If the falling figs don't hit me, they either land on the parking pad - a slab of 'D concrete where we park our cars - or they land on the cars, leaving unsightly marks on the hoods and roofs.

I am also here to tell you that when you have fresh figs on your parking pad, you have a potential hazard. They are slippery. The other day, for instance, I was hurrying to get in my car when I hit a patch of figs on the parking pad. I went into a fruit-induced slide. One foot was planted on firm ground but the other landed on a soft fig and took off toward the alley. I looked like a guy ## trying to dance like James "the Godfather of Soul" Brown.

I started to fall, but grabbed a car door and steadied myself. As I straightened up I imagined the end that could have befallen me. I could have tumbled, broken my crown, and ended my life down on the concrete surrounded by figs and fig leaves.

I thought of the embarrassing headlines that might accompany newspaper accounts of such an accident: Man Felled by Fig, or Body Found in Fig Leaves, or Fruit of the Doomed.

I was relieved that I avoided such unpleasant publicity for my next of kin. But I had to cope with some other unpleasantness, on the bottom of my shoe. The sensation of stepping on fresh figs is similar to the sensation you get when you step on the substance left on sidewalks frequented by large dogs. I scraped the squashed figs off my shoe and surveyed the scene.

In prior years, the figs were better behaved. Usually, they confined their ripening time to a few weeks in August and September. When they did show up, they didn't arrive in overwhelming numbers. They seemed to know the rules. As long as their branches grew up, not out, everybody was happy. If a branch or two strayed over the parking pad, I would gently trim it.

All that changed this summer. The figs showed up early, in July, and they kept coming.

In previous summers, four or five figs might ripen in one day. This summer they ripened by the dozens.

Moreover, the fig trees have an attitude. Instead of obediently growing on the side of the parking pad, the trees have spread out, claiming new turf, pushing branches halfway across the pad. No longer can we park a car under the fig tree. Instead we have to park one in the fig trees.

I know what I could do. I could get a saw and remove the offending branches. But I have stalled because these branches are so loaded with fruit.

I face a choice between picking up the saw or picking the fruit. For the time being I have decided to harvest, rather than harass the fig trees.

So lately I have been picking dozens of figs, rinsing them off and eating some of them as a snack. Then I have been picking more figs, rinsing them off, wrapping them in slices of ham and basil leaves, and grilling them on the barbecue.

Then I have been picking even more figs, rinsing them off and carrying them into the office, and giving them away.

I keep reminding myself that fresh figs are a treat. But after all this picking and all this eating, pretty soon the fresh figs are going to become more annoying than appealing. When that happens, the branches will fall.

! Pub date: 8/23/98

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