In late summer, my desires for light mischief and personal indulgence surpass the social codes I otherwise live by. This is my way of saying: I pick fruit that is not mine. I’m a person who goes for long, frequent walks, and when I walk, I look, and when I look, I am overcome by what is there to find. To quote the author Charlotte Mendelson: “There’s no English word for the frenzied state into which I’m thrown when I see a tree thick with crab apples, or greengages, or pears. Are you seriously expecting me, a greedy person, to ignore [them]?”
I’ll launch straight into my defense. I have an honour code: I don’t walk up people’s driveways or tread on their lawns; I respect tended gardens and community plots; I won’t take the only, anything befitting of the adjective “prized,” or more than can fit into one hand; I respect the purpose of a fence – I’m not a raccoon or a cat burglar. But when that fence fails to fully contain branches and vines within it, when those plants reach through and over and out towards me, who am I to ignore them? We know not to enjoy the fruits of others’ labour, but what about the fruits of their neglect?
To me, rogue raspberry canes spilling out into back lanes, cherry and fig trees whose fruits have splattered all over the sidewalk, and the occasional Italian plum flourishing beside an alley-facing garage, all inhabit a proprietary grey-zone. In the short, luminous weeks of late summer, I take clandestine advantage of them.
I attribute my passion for pilfering fruit to a few things. For one, I got a thrill from breaking minor, meaningless rules as a child and I miss those opportunities as an adult. If grabbing a fig and concealing it in my palm as I speed-walk away from a stranger’s house is what does it for me, well, things could be worse. Then, there’s the fact that unusual and wonderfully Edenic varieties of things sometimes grow in forgotten places. When I find those glowing, hot pink sour cherries you can’t seem to buy anywhere in Vancouver, except maybe frozen at the Russian grocer, or those small purple ones that taste like Black Forest cake, I think that maybe life actually is abundant and magical. When I find fresh, soft, sun-warmed figs – so unlike the hardscrabble, anemic ones from the grocery store or those you find, if you’re lucky, bruised and oozing at the farmer’s market – it feels like luxury.
Summer fruit trees offer more than snacking opportunities. As an apartment dweller whose potted golden pothos vines can only do so much, I appreciate mere proximity to lush, fragrant plants. If I had my own garden, I’d fill it with flowers and fruit and shrubs so big I could crawl inside them and live there like some kind of gnome. The Italian writer Cesare Pavese understands my attraction: “These peach and apple trees whose summer leaves are red or yellow make my mouth water even now, because the leaf looks like ripe fruit and it makes you happy just to stand underneath them,” he wrote. I’ll over-spend on fancy candles all year in hopes of recreating the effect of breathing in the musky sweetness of blackberry vines or the sharp, green, coconutty scent you get standing beneath a canopy of fig leaves on a hot, August evening.
There are those who see the worst in my fruit snatching. Once, in high school, I plucked a tart, crunchy apple from a tree that reached one branch over the fence separating a neighbouring backyard from the school’s parking lot. The next day, I arrived at school to discover the homeowner had sawn off the entire branch, apples and all (I can’t believe it was a coincidence). Another time, while out walking on a date, I nabbed a perfect fig from a front yard tree. “There’s probably a little girl who lives in that house who’s been waiting all summer for that fig to be ripe, and now you’ve ruined it,” snapped my date, more judgmental than joking. “And she’ll cry all the way until Christmas, when you’ll probably come back and ruin that, too.”
Yet. somehow, whenever anyone has tried to teach me a lesson about my pilfering, I’ve wound up feeling sorry for them. There’s just something so tense and puritanical about prioritizing restraint with ripe fruit at hand. Late summer is such a fleeting and beautiful season, it would be an oversight not to enjoy what small acts of hedonism we can before everything withers, decays, and darkens again, and the back lanes of our neighbourhoods are littered with wasted fruits that went their whole existence uneaten. What’s a raspberry or plum here and there, to fortify an aimless wanderer? What’s life without snatching sweet little things when you can find them?
To read the story in the Globe and Mail, click here.