Persimmon orchards continues to get the writing into me.
Today, despite a partially severed Achilles tendon, after ice packs, much anti inflammatories and Linus Pauling dosages of Vitamin C, I am off. The bus is beaten by my favorite, the Sheirut Monit. Pronounced as in the Old West term for stogies, “Cheroot,” these are legal 8–10 seater vans that stop at or near bus stops for the same fare. You step in, get seated, pass the fare to the person ahead, who chain-gangs it to the driver, who reaches back, hand cupped, turned upside down, like a flamingo feeding. Change is sent back the same route. I hop on (hopping being a current mode of travel on my left foot) and sans newspaper, sans reading glasses, sans full wakefulness, daydream the route to the kibbutz. The woman just in front of this 10-seater van is making herself up. I wonder of this, as I see her wedding ring. But she is careful, with mirror balanced on two fingers, she works with concentration. She needs little help, with her slightly olive-green tint of skin, but — as woman have wont — does look more beautiful after her “do.”
Moishek is always enthusiastic when I call; tells me to wait at the kibbutz welcoming sign. I read the word “karkar” on the Glil Yam sign — it is an archaic term for “founded.” I also glance at the signs pointing to various companies leasing space from the kibbutz — DHL is here, as is some high-techy place. Then there is the “biton,” the kibbutz’s own cement factory; this kibbutz and these kibbutzniks have fundamentally built this country and in ways not deeply appreciated today. Moshek arrives in one of his dust-burdened diesel-powered trucklets. His handshake — this 68 year-old, rail-thin former Navy Seal, a man whose abdomen is noticeably hollow beneath his work shirt — is bone-hardened, firm. We are off. I mean to ask him something about energy collaboration with the Swedish government, but these matters evaporate from my head this early in the a.m. and in the face of his greeting: the last of the Zionists, he calls me. But, I tell him there are more of us. He likes, “us.”
We join only one of the Thai workers — Shay is out ill, Moshek says. (Tomkap later tells me that Shay has sore muscles, not from work, but from weightlifting.)
I come with an unspoken sense of guilt. When I was here last, just before my sojourn in the States, I erred harvesting the last picking of avocados, the Fuerte species, a December harvest. I pulled many off their branches stemless; cut others leaving stem intact. I learned after I was done, that those sans stems cannot be graded for more expensive export, are doomed for the local shuk. As I left, I glanced at the crate of stemless Fuertes, which like Samson, once shorn, were of secondary strength; I felt remorse. I am determined today to be a better worker. No Delilah, I.
We are tree trimming today. I see how doing agriculture brings you closer to the seasons; brings me. How much I need prepare for that penultimate moment — picking in September — before that ultimate moment — the last temptation of eyes at Gristedes or Whole Foods, before you taste.
So, we will trim. I am more cautions here with my gimp leg. The rains in the last few days have created gullies in some of the old tractor tracks. These bring my mind to the gullied ponds that MC. Escher drew, which reflected the trees, the clouds and within which he planted a carp; it takes a bit to realize you are seeing an inverse universe, not only Escher’s ability to play dimensions.
But I will not be distracted by such mind wanderings. I am a cutter today, a trimmer, a man who will shape trees to bring light unto their lower branches. We bypass Shin, who is working the chain saw, and join Tomkap, now recovered, with long-handled pruners, as I am so armed. Moishek takes a moment longer to show me the principles: if more than three branches off a node, then trim to three; if branches are too crowded (jeopardizing unborn fruit which may later bump and grind each other, defect their brethren), I am to thin. I am to follow Tomkap. This is fine with me, although I notice after Moishek leaves, that Tomkap’s pruning is more akin to slash and burn agriculture. The two Thai workers as usual are masked with T-shirts. I watch, after their snacks, as to how these are donned. The T’s seems to be a finer form of cotton, dark, with the face peeking through the neck hole; the short-sleeve arms are then tied in a double knot behind the cranium, about the crest of the skull. The eyes and nose are revealed. On top, a hat is perched.
But before Moishek leaves, he notices that I “Mitlabet,” am indecisive. He encourages a bit of decisiveness in me.
I find myself thinking of Steiner, the founder of Theosophy, speculating with perhaps a touch of envy, on how plants have the better of us: they concentrate on growing, while we busy ourselves with other matters, such as consciousness, love, work and such. This tree is interested in simply branching out, getting its sap moving after winter’s sluggishness, popping fruit and getting such popped fruit tp propagate more trees.
As I trim, I cinch up my decisiveness by remembering that an error here, an over-trimming there, is correctable for the most part by these trees. (We have 8,000 to trim, I remind myself as I find my mind-meanderings interfering with my prunings.) If we could only be a bit more treelike: prune off those parts that sap our energies (these “sappers” that come off the trunk and will not bear fruit); lop off extraneous branches that unbalance our symmetries (and interfere with the tractor); eliminate cross-branches that crowd out each other, diminish the fruitfulness of the overall tree. If only we could prune ourselves in an unpainful manner, knowing that our overall growth will bear more fruit. And if an error be made, so be it; starfish-like we could pop out another branch.
But we are not so treelike. Our souls would not bear the lopping I meet out to these persimmon trees, very distant cousins.
The sun is firm. Even at 8 a.m., I remember how Moshek taught me to have my back to the sun as I was persimmon selecting, so as not to be eye-worn. So too, I learn to get my back up-sun so I can see better my next customers, so I can see better the overall crown of the tree. I should, after a good pruning, be able to look up through the tree crown and view an unobscured arbor, without much shading by the limbs, without limbs crossing each other, without much onomotopeic “Tz’fi’fut,” crowding. No tenements here. Fine fruit bearers will not tolerate tenements. When I am done, when I have done well, I have created lace, through which the sky is glimpsed; I work opposite that of a tatter, I un-tat to create some lacey beauty.
Or, I lop. But my lopping style is more conservative than Tomkap’s, who like the fearsome, giant Chinaman in the James Bond movie with his knife-edged Bowler is a fierce decapitator. He goes for the crown, the limb, goes at the origins, trims the sappers off the trunks. I start from the outer reaches and work inwards. At times, I find I have handsomely trimmed a few branchlets, only to see that Tomkap has preceded me and the already slain limb is resting forlornly against another, has not yet fallen. I learn to check for severed limbs first.
By 1100, the sun, once too warm for my Land’s End yellow jacket, is now hidden by clouds, a few drops fall; we wait for Moishek to go to the next orchard. As we wait, Tomkap takes to tiredeness; slips into one of the large, square receptacles, once filled with persimmons or avocados, pulls his sweat shirt hood over, and promptly naps. Clouds gather threateningly, I pace, stretch my Achilles and we wait.
But my Achilles, that tendon that made vulnerable this Greek hero, is wearing me down from my conquests. I head back with Moishek. I remember to talk with him about my idea with Kamella, who works at the Swedish embassy and is in my class, about biofuels. Moishek, as if primed, takes off with three types of plants that produce much oil. The macadamia nut is 97% oil; ladies won’t eat it anymore, even though Moishek thinks it tastes wonderful. He is surprised that it is so expensive in Hawaii. Hawaii and New Caledonia (or some such Pacific isle) have taken over the remaining market of ladies who don’t give a damn about oils. He, Moishek is left with an orchard of fatty nuts. Also something called Haria, which is faster to grow.
I am getting into the German crop of rapeseed. A better name for this in this Holy Land is canola. Much rich oil within, which can be used as a biofuel. The scientific, in which I became immersed, is, thanks now to Wikipedia, not extant in 2006, “Rapeseed (Brassica napus subsp. napus) is a bright-yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage family), …its oil-rich seed… contains appreciable amounts of toxic erucic acid….the third-largest source of vegetable oil and second-largest source of protein meal in the world.” Canola has much less erucic acid. The fields are bright yellow, acres of it in Germany. I told Moishek about it. Could we plant this here, fields upon fields. I’d contacted a big olive presser who would for a fee, press our rapeseed into oil, these would flow into massive bladders which can fit into ship containers, which can ship to….Sweden, where buyers were ready to pay. With the Israeli weather, maybe we could do two crops a year. (Listen to how this MD got into raising, pressing, blabbering and finding buyers for rapeseed oil.) Moishek enjoyed my enthusiasm. But he’s an agriculturalist, a realist about plants .This kibbutz grows seeded fruit — avocados, persimmons, citrus, maybe a few macadamia trees. Acres for this crop — -look to the Jezreel Valley, where they grow wheat and such.
Thanks to Moishek, I found the cooperative in the Jezreel Valley. A few buses brings me to meet them, see their fields. Their deal? You pay us per acre of rapeseed up ahead, so we can forgo some acres of wheat, then we’ll plant. A few tens of thousands of shekels. I turned to the Swedish buyers. “Sure, we’ll buy, but won’t pay ahead.” I checked my bank account and realized I couldn’t bankroll the farmers, the shippers and the olive presser.
Still, with Moishek, we plan, even scheme. I am energized. He unloads me with a few pounds of avocados to take home, distribute for Shabbat. And I hop, one-legged mostly, into a Sheirut home.