Soil eeked under my fingernails, in between the crevices of my wedding and engagement ring. A splash of rain dropped on the dry earth - immediately melting away like water dropped on a hot griddle. I worked quicker, scooping dirt and compost back into the hole and patting them around the gnarled witch hand roots of a bare root pear tree. I wanted to get this one in before the soft soil turned to mud.
When we moved to this half acre lot, I was giddy to find three neglected but mature fruit trees - a fig, summer apple and plum - lounging in the back forty. Over the past month, I've added seven more fruit trees: a lemon, a mandarin orange, a lime, a pomegranate, an asian pear, a three-in-one pear and a four-in-one apple.
I finished filling in the hole and stood back to examine the slim trunk of the newly planted pear. When would its spidery limbs bear fruit? A year? Two? Or three? When might I get a decent harvest from my newly planted orchard?
Later, on a walk through the neighborhood, I envied the soaring citrus trees that graced several front yards. California is citrus country and an orange, lemon or grapefruit were once almost obligatory in the front yard. Today, many have been torn out - replaced with feathery Japanese maples that shimmer crimson or gold in the fall. The few that remain often perch in the lawns of the elderly. Sometimes, they are tucked along the side, behind a basketball hoop or the trash cans - pruned up and out of the way. All too often, their fruit fall to the ground with a soft thud where they lie rotting and sickeningly sweet.
I think about how this land was once farm land. Many years ago, orchards and plows dotted the landscape instead of cars and sidewalks. How under the blacktop and houses, the soil remains steadfast and strong. Silent worms plumb its depths. Chunks of dirt crumble in a fist.
Food prices have steadily climbed the last few years. Indeed, some tie the Egyptian revolution to the rise in wheat prices. The world's "dollar menu" now costs $1.50 and, in February alone, the cost of food rose by 3.9%. The increase seems to be due to higher fuel prices as well as environmental damage causing crop failure. One can only imagine that this will continue as the world's population spirals upwards, as oil production decreases, and as climates shift.
Heading home, to my newly planted orchard, I wonder about these old and neglected fruit trees, still churning out their offerings year after year, even as the gardener hauls away rotten lemons and apples that no one bothered to pick. I wonder about the fruit and nut trees that were chopped down to make way for an easy ornamental and I wonder about the trees to be planted. I wonder how I once ignored fruit trees in my own backyard - finding it too much of a pain to pick the oranges, thinking their bite not sweet enough, and enjoying produce-stickered ones more.
I think of all these fruits trees and all this land and I wonder about our embarrassment of riches on a hungry planet.