Sometimes it seems that we leave a place too soon. It's as if we planted the seeds, nurtured and watered and watched the trees grow but didn’t get to see or enjoy the fruit. We are always moving on, my wife Claudia and I.
As you may know, we stayed in Europe for about a year, caring for Claudia’s parents, each now passed away. I got to see the European seasons, so distinct and so different to the seasons of the Australian desert. My parents-in-law always wanted me to see their village and garden in the Spring and Summer—the seasons of fruits and flowers. Helping to care for them was a bittersweet way to do so.
In the weeks before Claudia’s mum died, spring flowers and grasses made a jungle of the garden. The fruit trees blossomed gaily, their pink and white flowers captured the hard light and focused it on the flower-smothered old trees, each transformed into its own festival.
The cherry trees—one in the front yard, another out the back--snowed tiny white petals in the subtlest breeze. At other times, great clouds of yellow pollen moved through the air like huge, transparent fish. The chairs and tables on the terrace were covered in layers of the sweet-smelling gold powder. It was like a full moon spawning event on the Reef. We were like sea anemones—soft, sessile, slow growing.
Claudia and I were both beyond tired. Claudia’s focus on her mum, bound as she was in a heavy, useless shell of a body, took tremendous determination. How do you know to scratch someone’s nose when she can’t talk? How do you soothe their anxiety when they can't swallow? Claudia's love for her mum led her to new places of the heart and brought her the rare knowledge of carers.
I brought flowers in from the garden--or sometimes visitors brought them--for her mum's room.
Almost the only time I saw Claudia leave the house in those days was when she went out to the garden to photograph the flowers and insects. It was her meditation, I think. And then she brought the phone to her mum to show and tell her what she saw.
After the blossoms blew away and before the rosebuds grew, meadow flowers were the brightest in the yard. One day I filled the vase with bright yellow dandelions because they were the most splendid flowers in the garden. I’d never seen them so big.
As I picked the flowers, I made a mental note to take some dandelion root when I had a chance. Claudia’s cousin is a herbalist and she would have some for me, I thought. I like the roasted root of the dandelion as an infusion. They say it’s good for your liver. A few days of dandelion coffee is a tonic in Spring after too many winter days of buttery biscuits, cake or spiced wine.
The visiting physio raised an eyebrow when she came into the bedroom, ‘I’ve never seen them in a vase,’ she said. Her patient smiled with her eyes.
Each day, in the course of our work, Claudia and I spent a few minutes looking out at the cherry tree from the front window. The work of the bees showed as fertilised green buds grew into the shape of cherry seeds. They looked like big capers. I’d never seen cherries growing before.
Some of the branches were close enough that you would be able to pick cherries from the window. There were hundreds of the green fruits. It was going to be a heavy crop.
The cherries seemed especially wonderful because the tree did not bear fruit last year. A late frost in May that year killed the tiny fruits. People said the tree was diseased anyway and should be cut down. It seemed that the tree was dying with the man who planted it when Claudia’s dad passed away last Summer.
But, the tree was heavy with big green fruit in April, the following Spring, when her mum’s spirit left her body. It was strange how the house and garden went on without the ones who built it.
I wrote in my journal: ‘When your mum died, it seemed like the apples in the bowl lived longer than her, even though she lived a long life, and the apples only grew last Autumn.
It felt like I saw your Dad in the chair in the living room, clear as glass, or felt him call me to the garden, watching over my shoulder when I used his tools.
And yet their bedroom is so empty. The view of the garden is the same, but the clothes in the wardrobe all seem to be asleep. And the shiny wooden floor is so much bigger, in that small room, than it ever was.’
The weeks spent getting ready to leave the house seemed to take a long time, as Claudia, shattered, did her best to sort and gather the things of her childhood and youth. Meanwhile, the green cherries fattened in Spring rains. They began to blush pink in the lengthening hours of sunlight. When we did leave, Claudia picked a few cherries that were not yet ripe but were edible. They were tangy and crunchy. 'They will all get so much bigger and be a deep red,' Claudi said.
We couldn't see them all, but we visited some family before we left Europe, for rest and comfort.
Claudia's cousin, the herbalist, lives with her kind bear of a husband in a rural area with a splendid view of the mountains. You can watch storms come from twenty miles away, or watch a rainbow form, just as we did in the desert. As I expected, she had a supply of dandelion root. It wasn’t roasted, so the tea tasted like dirt. I had it in the mornings anyway and felt stronger.
‘I made a tincture of the dandelion flowers this year. They were so big and bright!’ Claudia's cousin told me. ‘Let me give you some.’ She poured dark yellow fluid into a little brown bottle.
‘What can you use it for?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know yet. I was following my intuition. We'll find out,' she said with a smile.
This month we also visited my older cousin-brother, a handsome man who has made his lifelong home in the European Alps. He and his wife fell in love--deep, strong and sure--when they were very young. They live together at her family’s home. There are grandparents on the ground-floor, aunties and uncles and their kids and grandkids in different apartments of the house.
My cousin and his wife have a stylish and colourful attic apartment, decorated with artwork from their wide-ranging travels. Here too, we were warmly welcomed.
On our first night there we were invited down to the yard for a barbecue. My brother cooked heaps of delicious food, including zucchini and eggplant from the garden. The kids ran in and out: playing in the yard, climbing, chasing and swinging. They were already tired from swimming. Every now and then, they climbed on their parents’ or their aunty’s laps for restoration or recovery. After one such break, inspired, the boy of about six pulled several drinking glasses out the drawer of the outdoor kitchen.
'There could be mud puddings in the making, with his little sister', my cousin-brother said, with a sigh.
As we finished our first servings of food the children returned with the glasses, one for each of us, brimming with cherries they picked for us from the tree in their yard. Each cherry was perfect, deeply ripened by the Alpine sun.
As we ate them I thought that there are times when you need to leave before the fruit ripens. But sometimes, if you are blessed by fortune, the fruit catches up with you.