Fruits of Her Labor
A story of appreciation from a girl to a bee.
Soft pink azaleas on the side of the house are beginning to bloom, speckles of fine yellow powder coat the dark blue steps leading up to our porch, there is a true sense of liveliness in the air and my nose sniffles with confirmed excitement. Shining with the coconut oil that I’ve taken from Ma’s pantry (and too liberally applied), I lay on the lawn chair in my Georgia backyard catching first rays of the season’s sun. After another winter she too is ready to get out, and I can hear her emerging from the hive she’s built below Daddy’s deck; I watch with youthful excitement as she hovers about looking for drones, food, and joys of the new season. These buzzing ladies signal the beginning of fruitful days to come.
Born and raised in the “Peach State” I could not possibly resist delving in. A name not given for the mere quantity produced, but rather the scrupulous title is due to the highest quality of sweet, tender fruit that droops from the Prunus persica orchards. It is soft to the touch with a protective trichomes evenly coating its epidermis, and softer even more so because of its uncontrollable ripeness. Fruit so easily impressionable by just the slightest squeeze of my nine- year-old fingertips. The pericarp is so ready to burst, the thin skin can barely contain its exploding juices held beneath. As I bring the full weighted fruit to my mouth, olfactory senses are instantly engaged and trigger the formation of saliva that’s felt between the tight corners of my lips. But it is incomparable to the sensual taste; my mandibles penetrate the fragile fruit and its cell walls burst with juices that in no way elegantly dribble, but rather forcefully rush, down my chin, and down everywhere.
Mom and I buy a big bag of peaches from the local Red and White store down the road, and then hide them away in a brown paper bag in the dark cupboard to hurry the ripening process (and to keep them from Dad’s impatient cravings). As each day passes I beg Mom to let me enjoy, but she insists on waiting, waiting, waiting for that sweet peak. Eventually, after those sneaky fruit flies begin to find their way in, it is time. Two large mixing bowls, peeling and peeling the paring knife now adheres to my palm from the sticky nectars oozing about. One bite for me, one more bite for me, one for the relentlessly wagging Merlin, and one into the bowl… the unbalanced ratio which makes the process much longer than necessary and has me almost full before the baking even begins.
Written on splotchy yellow paper:
Melt one stick butter
Pour in half the batter Add cut fruit Do not stir!
Pour in rest of batter
Top with brown sugar
Bake @375, 35min
I turn on the oven light and drag a stool from the kitchen island to watch the show. The batter increasingly grows turning golden in color; it’s just about to rise over the sides, but then crispens to the edges. The brown sugar melts across the surface; it bubbles with vigor popping up and down as it creates the crunchiness of the top layer. Beeeeep
Opening the oven door with fork in hand, I poke the middle to check for completion: “It’s ready, it’s ready, it’s ready!” I holler up the steps. And before my mom even makes it down, I’m screaming and swishing about some sweet tea, because I’ve already burned the roof of my mouth too impatient to let the cobbler rest. But when the scalding resides I’m left with the chewy batter, caramelized sugars, and concentrated flavors of the roasted peaches. Straight from the pan I begin gobbling up the warm, sweet goodness that sits before me. Mama has to remind me to take a breath and slow down; I sit for a moment taking it all in with an unstoppable greasy grin of delight and pleasure.
After a few weeks she has finally gained enough strength to leave her colony and search for food. But she is particularly wise with her forage, and searches for an abundance of pollen for protein and nectar for sugar storage. Of course the complex realities of the natural world means no species are willing to provide such valued resources without anything in return. The angiosperms blooming with flashy colors and seductive pheromones draw the hymenoptera to its platform of petals and uses ultraviolet nectar guides to point the lady to the direction of desirability. She extends her long, hairy proboscis into the sweet nectar and sucks away; in doing so this worker bee has acted upon a mutual symbiosis of love with the flowering plant.
I’m starting to get really worried about the first day of high school, so the weekend before Mom wants to take me to the place which will knowingly calm my nerves. Forsyth is a two hundred year old park decorated with sunshine, day lilies, indigo, and lantana. Beneath the tremendous live oaks and Spanish moss, is Savannah’s small, but dignified market. As we bike through the downtown squares, I hope that we won’t be late. 9:45 is the goal, before the bakery runs out of their chocolate croissants…but it’s not like I’m going to buy one. Mom gives me just $3 and I know exactly where that money will be spent. If you’re facing the fountain, he’s on the left hand side, second table in; you won’t miss him. He’s an older man in simple clothes and a flashy smile; he perfectly wears the accent of a true old southerner. The man sells only one thing, but what more could you possibly want? “No ice, sir,” I let the gentleman know so that I can keep a pure concentrated cup without dilution. The 14 ounces are filled to the brim with deep pink watermelon juice. Nothing else added, nothing else needed. I take deliberate steps across the park being careful the sacred sweetness does not slosh away from me. So much discipline not to finish the drink in just a few gulps; I must savor the delightful liquid contents slowly and with integrity. My mom tells me to save some for my older sister; I know she has to be kidding and I laugh at the silliness of having to share this rare joy.
When the bee passionately buries her head in the liquid sucrose, sticky sacs of pollen grain attach to the fuzzy creature. And away she flies covered from antenna to tarsal pad in male genes. She then visits another luring flower, and the bee deposits the sacs of DNA down the pollen tube eventually making its way to the ovary. A successful fertilization. These rooted plants are alone helpless, and must rely on these flying organisms to commit the sexual acts of a flower’s affair.
My first college internship creates such a hard summer for me. This is my first significant job, and it’s not going so well. I’m sad, stressed out, and Maine is depressingly cold; I really miss home. Liza’s been my best friend for fifteen years, and I can’t wait for her visit. She comes with a suitcase which reaches to our shoulders and extends beyond the width of our two waists; it was obvious Mom sent her with some gifts. Packed inside are of course peaches, green peanuts, and scuppernongs. There are six pints of variously ripened green fruit. We dump them all on the counter and pick through for the softest, sweetest ones. And then divide them back up, putting the least developed fruit in the back of the fridge for later. Each day she’s there we test the new pint and find the ones ready for our consumption. We use the technique mirroring the flavored honey sticks sold at roadside farm stands: you don’t tear the plastic, rather create enough pressure to have it pop open between your back teeth. You have to pop the scuppernongs, because under the coating of tart, thick skin and just before the soft flesh is a layer of toe curling juices that are capable of transporting one from the cold, rainy northeast to the coastal, southern sun.
The ovary swells with impregnation, and as the season passes delicate flowers turn to delicious fruits. Hidden beneath the fleshy walls of mesocarp are the seeds of its labor, the protective symbols of future generations. But the prized embryo enclosed is of no use without proper distribution. Just as the luring hued flowers attracted the bee, the fruit must now attract me. And attraction it very much does achieve. With smooth skin and sumptuous juices, the fruit catches my eyes, lips, tongue, and tips; it entices all my senses.
These fruitful experiences continue returning to me with significance. In Greece it’s the bowl of dark red cherries the host mother picks for us each afternoon. She not speaking a word of English, and we not speaking a word of Greek, yet we communicate through smiles of red stained teeth and appreciation. In Israel it’s the consumption of sweet, seedy figs from the outdoor market that have put things in perspective allowing me to realize the surrounding thing they call war is just a game of useless pride. In New Zealand it’s the candied feijoas, more frankly it’s the cheap supply of feijoa cider, which dares me to dive 440ft from one of the tallest bungys in the world. In Key West it is the tropical star fruit, mamey, canistel, and bananas, real bananas that make me understand the incredible sprouting possibilities of our American soil.
My new understandings prohibit oblivion, and I can’t stop worrying about her. Sure climate change effects bloom productivity, and the mulboard plow removes all nutrients from the land, but it’s a more personal predicament than that. It’s those bees that have always caught my attention, buzzing about in declining patterns. So much so that in parts of northern China the productive pollinating population is nonexistent, and fruits powerlessly rely on man-made ticklers that mimic the sexual stimulation of a bee. But dildos just aren’t the real thing, and flowers are smarter than they’re perceived to be. These flowering fruits very much need their pollinators.
Not a lot wants to live up here in Ithaca, and it seems so understandable. I’m afraid I haven’t seen a sign of green for six months. Where’s all the fruit, how exciting can an apple be? But the orchard here somehow brings my love of fruit back. The pome is complex and compelling; it’s considerably lovely and desirable. Twenty varieties line up for my tasting. Ida Reds paired with goat’s milk cheddar, Gold Rushes dripping in wildflower honey, and tangy Northern Spies dashed with cinnamon layered beneath a steaming, flaky crust. There are the kiwiberries from Dilmun Hill and of course the three week season of paw paws from McDaniel’s Nutgrove. And my love of fruit changes, but continues as I deepen my knowledge of this botanical field.
I know we need her, but she’s leaving. And while the colony collapses are caused by a number of factors, they are of no surprise when looking at our agricultural practices. With the intent of destruction, we spray their habitats with herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides; the air is polluted, their feral homes are depleted, we harvest them by the 100s of thousands, and don’t respect them for all they’re worth. Who would want to live in such an environment? They certainly don’t, and with their four wings hinged to the thorax, the honey bee has the option to fly away. You see, the thing is I really love peaches, and peaches love pollinators; pollinators used to love peaches. This fruit I love comes from a grounded plant that completely depends on the creatures of its environment. But she’s not around like she used to be. When she stops landing on the pink double blossoms of early spring, the fruit will never develop. And my pericarp memoirs will only serve as a distant memory to a tasteless future.