Wednesday, May 27, 2015

#181 Banana Harvest

We were too eager the first time we harvested our bananas.

We’d waited long enough, we thought. I’d bought the tiny banana plant on our first trip to the nursery after moving into our new place. We had a yard, and it wanted trees. Lemon, tangerine, pomegranate, those were the ones I wanted, but I never considered bananas. But there it was, in a black plastic pot with “dwarf apple banana, $12.50” scrawled on the side. Why not, I thought.

It slept for months, years, unchanging, in the grassy corner of the yard where I’d planted it. Then one day it began to grow. A towering trunk, then another sprang up, and another. Green leaves unfurled like solar panels on an opening space probe. The architecture of nature built with astounding speed.

A flower appeared, a huge purple-red bud the size of my open hand, hanging down like the head on a goose’s neck from a long stem. Petals dropped off, exposing tiny green fingers. Proto-bananas. Embryonic. The stem grew longer, adding ranks of bananas until a bottle-brush of them hung from the top of the tree. We sent proud photographs to relatives, as if this bunch of bananas were a new baby in the family. Day by day we watched them grow. Are the bananas fat enough yet? Can we cut them down yet?

At last we couldn’t stand it any longer. We cut them down, solid and green, and hung them up to ripen. My sons gleefully hacked down the tree with a machete, careful not to damage the younger trees coming up around it. Its sheaves, peeled away one at a time, revealed a hollow lattice structure that hinted at the plant’s ability to spring up so quickly. Layers circled a center trunk, rows of cube-shaped chambers in every one, like the steel superstructure of a skyscraper.

The second time we harvested bananas, it took us a long time to get around to it. For months we said, those bananas look ready, we should cut them down. By then there were three other bunches coming on, one in our yard and two hanging over the side fence into the neighbors’. The bananas got bigger and fatter, far fatter than the first bunch we cut.

When they finally started to turn yellow--could bananas actually turn yellow on the tree?--we decided we’d better hurry or we’d loose them all to the myna birds.

One of my younger sons stood up on a stool and used the saw to cut them free while three more of us stood beneath to hold them up. Cold banana sap dripped into my hair, like an anointing. The bananas were so heavy they nearly knocked me over when they came down. The boys fought over turns with the machete, cutting up the trunk for the compost, while I helped my daughter cut the bunches of bananas off the stem. Afterwards I had to use paint thinner to get the latex from the saw and the machete and my sticky hands.

“This must be why Hawaiians share food,” my son said. “There’s too many bananas all at once for us to eat by ourselves.”

Would you like one? Ripened on the tree.

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