Too many figs! Or so I thought.

I ate them. I made jam. I gave them to friends. I sold them. I grew desperate. Enter the Fish People.

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Figs must be picked fully ripe, as they do not ripen further. They keep in a fridge only 2-3 days, or can be frozen. See the huge leaves?

My fig tree had too many figs. Like too many cooks in the kitchen, or like planting too many zucchini plants, they were complicating my life. I’d dried them, made jam with them, and eaten them until I thought my skin would turn brownish-green. If I let them fall on the ground, they became a sticky mess underfoot that attracted irritable yellow jackets. I couldn’t imagine picking them and throwing them away. I had a problem not unlike my visiting granddaughter’s problem one morning when she complained to me, “These pancakes have too many blueberries!”

Faithful fig-loving friends came to my rescue at first. Many others turned up their noses at these odd fruits, the flesh of which, frankly, looks like hundreds of little pink worms. But anyone who likes figs, I discovered, adores them. I could count on four friends to show up when I put out the call. They often had recipes to suggest, or their favorite ways of eating them.

But one summer even they couldn’t keep up.

When I noticed the going price for figs at my supermarket, I put up a “Figs for Sale” sign at the end of the driveway and left a few containers of figs at my back door with a can for the money. That worked for a year or two. People were amazingly honest, and some even paid a dollar or two extra or didn’t take change. But supply and demand is tricky with figs. Figs are not a patient fruit. 

We had an especially warm summer that year, and even though my sign warned, “These figs won’t last long – keep in your refrigerator,” a woman came back a couple of days later, complaining that her figs had not lasted. I gave her another dozen, but she was not my favorite customer.

My favorite customer was a pleasant man who arrived at my door and wanted way more figs than I had set out. He and I went out to the tree and picked a couple more containers full. He told me he and his wife had a home in my neighborhood in the Seattle area, but they also had a home in Alaska, where they both had worked. She still worked for the airlines, so they traveled back and forth frequently. “We don’t have a lot of fresh fruit in Alaska, so I’ve been driving around looking for fruit to pick to take back up there.” I was shocked he was taking figs to Alaska. “You know these don’t have a shelf life,” I said. “They won’t last long.” No problem, he said. He wanted to try.

After that introduction, he became my best customer. I took down the “Figs for Sale” sign. By the second year, he and his wife were stopping by and picking figs themselves. That fall, they stopped to ask if I liked salmon. Did I like salmon?! Wild Alaskan salmon is the best, and I could rarely afford to buy it. 

By the next summer, my freezer had a ready supply of salmon, halibut, and red snapper. My new friends Doug and Tris had free picking access – their favorites being the fig and pear trees. I couldn’t choose a favorite fish. They were all delicious. 

Last summer my extended family gathered at my house for a celebration of my mother’s life. When the Fish People, as my family called them, heard what we were doing, they insisted on bringing a big package of smoked salmon, frozen salmon, halibut, and shrimp. My fearless son and his wife took over the barbecue. We had more than enough to serve nearly 20 of us. My mom loved family, Alaska, and fish. How she would have enjoyed that day!

The Bible mentions figs several times, beginning with modest Adam and Eve. Buddha received his enlightenment under the bodhi tree, or sacred fig. My fig tree brought me enlightenment, too: I had seen the abundance of my fig tree as a problem to be solved, an inconvenience and a bother. But I discovered that abundance, when shared, brings connections and loving friendships. Doug and Tris drop by occasionally for a quick visit, and Doug has promised to bring me old photos of our neighborhood, as he grew up here. 

My fig tree is a treasure that has fed me, my friends and family, and now my new friends. It also taught me that, like friends, you just can’t have too many figs!

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