In the autumn of 2014, Sherod and I had just finished moving to Lowndesboro. The last moving boxes had been unpacked, the renovations in our house were almost done and we were expecting Sherod’s son and his family, along with our girl María, to come for Thanksgiving. We were also getting our minds around the opportunities for gardening and growing our own food, giddy with anticipation.
One of the first things the Mallowman did was buy some very young saplings: three pear trees, three peach trees. We fenced in the back third of the back yard and began to get that space ready for spring planting. The 6 saplings went into the ground in a single row. There was already a fig tree growing close by, three blueberry bushes that have been faithful in giving fruit each year and a scuppernong vine. A couple of years after we planted the saplings, Sherod also planted a blackberry bush that has now flourished so we have 3 vines growing all along the fence. I think we will be able to start picking the blackberries next week and the harvest promises to be massive.
It took a while—about 3 years—for our peach trees to start producing fruit, though before that, they did have blossoms on them each year. A trip up to one of my favorite places in Alabama, Petals from the Past, meant we came home equipped to provide better care for our peach trees and over the next couple of years, we had a small crop of peaches from one of the trees. Then, two of them produced sweet, delicious fruit—the kind you eat fresh off the tree, with peach juice running down your face and you just don’t care because the fruit is so delicious. This year, all three trees are loaded, so much so that Sherod has had to cull them all. Fewer fruit have more intense peach flavor, are healthier and bigger. At the Curb Market last Saturday, the baskets of peaches I used to buy for about $8-10 now cost 15 or 16 dollars and I am grateful that we will be able to provide for ourselves this year.
And then, there were the three pear trees. They grew more slowly. And year after year, nothing. Not even a single blossom on any of them. No sign that they’d ever bear fruit. Sherod and I took to walking by them to issue a quick reminder: ‘y’all remember the fig tree in the Gospel? Y’all remember that a tree that doesn’t bear fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire? Just sayin’…” For the last 3 years, every year, Sherod has announced the end is near, he is about to cut down those danged trees.
Early this spring, one morning Sherod called me out to the garden. We stood looking up at the middle of the three pear trees, amazed and thrilled. There were blossoms on it. And then, after the blossoms had dried, teeny tiny little pears. There aren’t many. Of those, quite a few show signs that insects have had a feast. But there are maybe a dozen that are perfectly pear shaped, with just a small blush of red, that keep growing and growing. Pear harvest usually happens in August and September. There’s no telling whether or not these beautiful little fruit will be good for picking. I can’t feel bad if critters that need them get to them first. I don’t know if we will get to feel that special joy we always feel as we feast on food we’ve grown ourselves. But that doesn’t matter.
One of the laws of physics says “If an object A exerts a force on object B, then object B must exert a force of equal magnitude and opposite direction back on object A.” I wonder if for every parable of woe, there might be an equal and opposite parable to be considered. If so, the message for today is this:
The parable of the pear tree.
Once there were pear trees that yielded no fruit. For years and years, they were tended carefully, they had been planted in rich soil, they grew tall and slender and beautiful but yielded no fruit. The farmers grew weary of all that tending with nothing to show for it. They threatened to cut the trees down. They fumed sometimes. And yet. And yet there was something that hesitated, at the thought of simply destroying a living being that had beauty all its own, even if it bore no fruit. It wasn’t necessarily grace–perhaps just inertia–that kept those fruit trees alive, but the trees bore another fruit it took a while for the farmers to see. The trees showed the farmers that along with care and all the other things they did for them, the trees needed patience. An abundance of patience. Patience. A gift of the Spirit. So many second chances, we lost count of how many. But enough that at least one finally bore the fruit we so wanted. In the end, isn’t that the truest truth about the one we call our ‘God of infinite love and mercy’…