Forbidden Fruit (the Sidewalk Fig story)

“Pick me!” says the fig hanging over the street.

Every morning, I resist the temptation to pluck a fig from a sidewalk tree. I walk before dawn, but the plump silhouette is clear against the brightening sky. 

“Pick meee!”

I’ve watched this fig grow from the size of a chocolate chip to the size of a . . . fig. There are dozens on offer: stem-down, bottoms-up candy for strangers. But I keep walking. Someone might be looking out a window.

***

The tree stands in a “hellstrip” between street and sidewalk, but it’s the nearest streetside fig that calls. It hangs at shoulder height, and as I pass, I imagine how easy it would be to finger that fig from its place to my pocket. 

The tree is probably ‘Brown Turkey’: a cultivar that can cope with Nashville winters. It is self-fertile, and sets fruit without the help of fig wasps—or any pollinator. But the fruit needs help to find eaters: our local squirrels, raccoons, possums, and birds have not yet noticed that figs in this hellstrip might be heaven. 

  • On the one hand, the tree belongs to the neighbor who planted it.
  • On the other hand, the tree is in a Public Right-of-Way.
  • On the other, other hand, what if everyone felt entitled to pluck a fig as they walked past? The twigs would be bare within hours.

But figs are FIGS: Mediterranean tidbits not often found dangling above a Nashville street. Unless you walk that street every single day.

***

“Pick me!” the fig said again this morning. It wore a dusting of frost.

Then it added something new: words calculated to tempt me further, as it knows me so well. 

“I contain multitudes!” it shouted, but it wasn’t quoting Walt Whitman so much as describing itself: one fig is a composite fruit of many former flowers: a “synconium.”
And as if I needed another fancy term to pique my interest, a fig is an example of “parthenocarpy:” the development of fruit without fertilization.
Like virgin birth, but for plants.

Figs are weird and wonderful and ancient. They’re Biblical for godsakes; and you know what? Except for one mealy gift-pack from a grocery store, all my figs have been in childhood Newtons.
I have never in my life tasted a fresh fig, just-plucked from a tree.

***

Yesterday, I told my Mom about the fig tree. We were walking back from the interstate bridge, where we had gathered about 40 bruised and maggotty Black Walnut hulls from the storm drain. 

“Figs?” she asked. “You mean to tell me that there’s ripe figs on the street, going begging?

***

So this morning at dawn, when they begged, I picked. 

And now, is it I who contain multitudes: a single fresh fig, just-plucked from a tree.



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Bio:
Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, Stonecrop Review, The Fourth River and other journals.

6 thoughts on “Forbidden Fruit (the Sidewalk Fig story)

  1. HOLY COW, JOANNA! I can’t BELIEVE you’ve never had a fresh fig! (well, i never had had one either until about a decade ago, when Lori Shulman’s tree began to bear fruit — and it doesn’t take very long, either!) So how was it? and why don’t you go get yourself a Brown Turkey tree for your back yard? i want one too, so when you figure out where to get one, please tell me — maybe i can rip out the horrible bush next to my driveway and replace it with a fig tree!!!

    1. Now I need to run over and see what your horrible shrub is. Pretty sure you can buy a Brown Turkey at Bates or Babylon. Is that what Lori’s tree is? Can you ask her? If so, I’ll let you know when I see one for sale.

  2. When I lived in Houston, we had a fig tree in the backyard! Alas, my father was allergic, and I found out (after a bad case of hives) that I am allergic to the sap on the tree. I was picking and eating them, but haven’t touched another one since then, when I was very young. Enjoy the sweetness!

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