Saturday, September 14, 2013

So Linger the Days


Harvesting Black Sphinx dates in the Mountgrove neighborhood of Arcadia in Phoenix

You could understand if I was feeling a bit downhearted as I rode to work on a sunny Saturday morning. It was stacking up to be a full/long day already, with lots of work remaining, and tight deadlines looming.

Sometimes my commute takes me through the Mountgrove neighborhood, which has a grid-like array of gorgeous black sphinx date palms which have been producing fruit for decades. Date cultivation is labor-intensive, requiring several visits to the top of the tall trees per season to perform various tasks necessary to produce and harvest the fruit.

On this particular Saturday morning, I happened to notice someone up there performing some of those tasks, so I stopped to chat. He confirmed what I had read: he had been up this particular tree ten times in order to get the fruit to this point. He asked if I would like to sample a freshly picked one.

Dates, I learned later in the day, are eaten in one of four stages, designated by their Arabic names:

kimri: unripe (there seem to be sub-designations based on fertilized / unfertilized)
khalal: full size but still crunchy
rutab: full size, ripe, and soft
tamr: sun-dried on the tree

For several reasons including age, disease, power line company controversy, and thin skin which makes them somewhat less transportable and thus less commercially attractive, there's not a lot of this variety to go around any more (tree, or fruit). These Black Sphinx trees have been cultivated from off-shoots which grow from the base of the tree, so all of them are, allegedly, genetically identical. (would love to confirm that story). I've also been told over the years that the Black Sphinx trees don't grow anywhere else.

The guy harvesting the dates after ten trips up the tree lowered his lift, then rummaged through overflowing bag of picked dates to select one for me to try. Fresh off the tree, he handed me a rutab date, soft and unwrinkled. I bit into it. The flavor was dark, creamy honey and sweet sunshine that melted in my mouth. The fresh, complex date flavor lingered in my mouth and on my tongue as I thanked him and rode off to work.

Can a fresh-picked fruit handed to you by the person who picked it change your day, or your life? I'll share my thoughts between the time I savored the date from the photo above, until I saw the clouds in the photo below. 

All the way, the sweet honey taste of the date lingered in my mouth, so luscious that I felt certain that I would not want to drink coffee the rest of the morning, or eat for several hours, out of concern that the delicate sensations going on in there would be covered up, or washed away. I thought of the sunny, sandy deserts where dates are treasured and consumed all the time, and of the days of growing and basking in the Arizona sunshine which went into producing the sugars and flavors which were still tickling my tongue.

So many days I spent riding beneath those trees, while high above me the slow date magic was being worked, aided by someone regularly visiting them and performing the necessary nurturing tasks. I've posted about dates before, and date shakes, so I have known about these trees, but now I feel like I have a direct and more respectful connection with them: some days on my morning commute, I am going to ride underneath them, glance up at the ripening clusters, and my mouth will water as my memory fills with the creamy honey-sweet taste. So, sure, of course, this fresh-picked fruit generously offered and gladly consumed changed my day for the better, and will alter those future days with remembered sweetness as well.

But life? Changed? As on the evening of the "Lone Bike at the Rack" post, which has unaccountably gotten hundreds of hits from I know not where or why but would like to, on this Saturday morning ride in to work, my mind was not clear, and my heart was not light. I was worried about many work-related things, for I am a worrier in those realms at least. These states, a mind clouded with worry, a heart heavy with stress, are not how I wish to spend my days, assuredly, not dwelling in those feelings, I mean. So many other creative, life-affirming things I imagine.

Then came the date harvester, with the kindly offered and gladly consumed fresh Black Sphinx rutab. Taste lingering in my mouth as I thanked him and rode off. Creamy sunshine honey sustaining, like some sweet memory that will itself become a new sweet memory in its remembering. Days should be like that, exactly: hours into memories which we would return to ten times to nurture and grow them patiently into caramel sweet cream which lingers as we recall and savor them as they melt away. Life may occasionally take a sudden turn of inspired lusciousness riding beneath blazing sunshine. As with Black Sphinx rutab dates fresh off the tree, so linger the days.    


...so linger the days

2 comments:

  1. Still learning more about my new home, I only recently learned about date palms, after discovering them inexplicably scattered en masse beneath palm trees all over the Coronado neighborhood here in Central Phx. What a waste! I think how wonderful they would taste baked in muffins or pound cake that has been drizzled with orange juice. It's nice to know that someone else appreciates them.

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    1. Last night, I was talking with a neighbor even more familiar than I am where all the edibles are in the neighborhood, and when they produce fruit: figs, apples, blackberries, pomegranates, pecans, and citrus are all available (in season) within walking distance. And a lot of it seems to go to waste. I think I'll plant a fig tree next. That pound cake sounds delicious. Perhaps with some pecans from my neighbor toasted and sprinkled on top.

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