Recently while grocery shopping I came across a homeless man who was foraging, for lack of a better term, in the produce section of the grocery store. Soon I was following the man as he walked around and ate, heartily, from the displays of fruits and vegetables. Other people in the store didn’t register him and those that did, recoiled in disgust at his antics. After what seemed like an eternity I was watching him evade the store’s security who must have been summoned by an unhappy customer and eventually get taken down.
A few days later while walking the neighborhood I couldn’t stop thinking about the homeless man and what it must be like for the world to be your personal farm. Then I remembered that I’d had a period of my life where the world was my personal farm, it was my childhood. Right at the moment that it dawned on me that I’d been there before my arm shot up over my head and inexplicably reached for something that wasn’t there. I came to a complete stop in front of a neighbor’s house and looked around me trying to figure out what had just happened. As I was looking around I realized the front yard I was standing in front of was missing trees…apple trees…to be exact…four of them.
Memories of standing in that very spot and jumping up to reach the apples that hung from the branches that grew over the sidewalk came flooding back. Soon I was walking around the block in search of the mulberry tree we gathered under to shake the branches and catch berries.Those harvest would always eventually deteriorate into full-on mulberry wars where several kids would end up walking home crying and stained beyond recognition. Gone from the neighborhood are; cherry trees, various pear trees, blueberry bushes and crab apples of my youth. Where did they go? Who knows for sure. I suspect they were cut down when many of the properties around here changed hands and several of the older people moved out. Perhaps, the new owners were not so fond of the idea of strange neighborhood kids climbing fences or trespassing to get to a handful of mulberries or a couple of pears, and so they cut them down to remove all temptation.
The urban orchard that once grew in my corner of Chicago is now gone. I can’t believe I didn’t notice when it happened. I probably didn’t notice the trees were being cut down because it occurred during those years of transition in life. That handful of odd years when you go from being a kid to turning into a young adult and everything is cause for embarrassment and being seen picking fruit from a tree on the street would’ve been social death. The one tree that remains from that period is an old pear tree that lately holds more birds than pears and he looks like he’s on his last legs. While looking around for the fruiting trees of my youth I spotted many saplings in backyards. They give me hope that one day the kids around here will be darting home, the front of their t-shirts heavy with fruit, calling out to mom and stopping just long enough to unload the harvest on the kitchen table before running off and disappearing into the neighborhood.
Until then I’ll be reacquainting myself with the liberty afforded by youth and collecting some pears from my old friend this summer. You should do the same, well, not with my pear tree but with fruiting trees in your own neighborhood. If you don’t have any growing on old homes or in public areas share something from your garden with a neighbor who does.