In my younger years, we could always spot the desperate gardeners. They were the ones with baskets of tomatoes, stacks of peppers, bags of zucchini, endless bags of zucchini. At first we felt lucky to bask in their bounty. Later, as the zucchini continued to prosper and the other veggies had gone to the great compost pile beyond, we started to avoid those desperate gardeners. We often arrived at work to find bags of zucchini outside our doors and piles of zucchini on every communal flat service with those pleading signs, "Please help yourself."
We're well into mango season in South Florida. I'm beginning to see similar signs across the county. Last week, my neighbor had signs on his van: "Yard sale and mangoes." I went over to see their microwave, and my neighbor shook his head as he dumped another bucket of mangoes on the table. "This is how we spend our week-ends now. We've got three trees in the back."
Those of you in the upper 48 are probably wondering why we don't just eat all those luscious mangoes. Well, we try. But your average tree can produce hundreds of mangoes, often within the same three week period. It's exhausting. And they're not easy fruits to work away from the stone.
I tried to take a picture to give a sense of how tall the trees grow, but it's hard to get far enough away. The height of the older trees makes mango harvesting hard. I've been keeping an eye on the tree in the yard behind me. It's producing well after a few off seasons. When Hurricane Wilma blew through in 2005, the tree suffered: it looked like a huge hole had been blasted right through the center of it. But this year, all our trees are in fine shape.
When we first moved down here, we'd take long walks. The landscape was so different than South Carolina, than Tennessee, than Virginia, than Indiana, than any place either of us had ever lived before. I noticed all these tentacles that started growing from some trees in mid-May. I just couldn't imagine what was happening. Were the trees sick? Then we noticed little buds--and then, mangoes! I couldn't imagine living in a place where mangoes grew so plentifully. Surely we had moved to paradise!! I thought about paying $5 a mango back in a South Carolina grocery store. And here, I could just pluck them for free.
Now I use what I can and leave the rest for the birds and the inevitable rotting process. I'm not like some of those South Floridians who leave mangoes on the tables at work. I understand hating to see food go to waste. I understand that other parts of the world would pay premium dollars for our mangoes, even though down here, we can't give them away.
Aesthetically, I love the way they look on the tree, as the green globes turn golden and red. I love the way they taste, especially if someone else has done the prep work.
I see how the first settlers to the continent and the islands must have seen the native fruits as vaguely threatening, with their tentacles and their vibrant colors and their encroaching leaves. Back in graduate school, after one of those ferocious Southern thunderstorms, my British friend remarked that the first settlers must have found the landscape very threatening: "Back in England, we don't have poisonous snakes and scary storms."
And now, here I am, still a settler of sorts, still trying to figure out this landscape. We should be to rainy season by now; our daily rains usually start mid-May. We're having warm weather, which we always do, but no rain at all. No moisture in the air. My lips are chapped--and in the 12 years we've lived here, my lips have only been chapped when I've travelled north in the winter.
I don't miss the humidity. It's much easier to live with drier air. But it's weird. Like we've been teleported to Arizona--except it would be hotter--and this year, on fire.
I find myself hoping that this non-rainy season will extend into a non-hurricane season. To distract my anxious eyes from searching the east for any signs of swirl in the atmosphere, I look to the trees for distraction.