Under the Fig Tree


Figs are ripening now all across the southern United States, and by September the figs in the northern half of the country will ripen. If a gardener has 20 to 30 square feet to spare outside, preferably in a sunny spot protected from cold winter winds, then planting a fig tree would be a productive use of that space. For the gardener who doesn’t have enough outdoor space, then planting a dwarf fig tree in a pot and setting it by a sunny window is a great way to get plenty of fruits (technically a fig is not a fruit, but a fleshy stem with multiple ingrown flowers), and without a great deal of fuss over pests, diseases, and special requirements.

017 Squirrel in Bodhi Tree (9222176956)
A squirrel nibbling a fig in the Bodhi Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar state, India. Photo by Flickr user Anandajoti.


A self-pollinating dwarf fig variety does not require a tiny wasp to pollinate it, unlike varieties such as Smyrna figs. Contrary to common belief, most figs commercially available these days, either as fresh or dried fruits in grocery stores, or as plants for sale to home gardeners, are self-pollinating varieties and therefore it is unlikely consumers will eat a tiny, imprisoned wasp in a fig. Even if they did, there’s no harm in it, and anyway the enzymes produced by the ripening fig will have dissolved the wasp by the time the fig is ready for consumption. That delicate crunchiness inside any ripe fig generally comes from the seeds, and rarely from an insect exoskeleton.

In growing figs outdoors, southern gardeners have a big advantage over northern gardeners because they have to do relatively little to protect their trees from winter cold. Wrapping the branches in burlap and perhaps adding a layer of mulch around the roots are all that is required in the South. There will be some branch die back even so in an average winter, but usually nothing like the major losses incurred by fig trees in the North unless gardeners lay the trees down in trenches and pile mulch and wind protection on top of them.

For a 2017 album, Blakey Morton performed Scott Joplin’s 1908 song “Fig Leaf Rag”.


Once a fig tree has established a vigorous root system over the course of five to ten years it can withstand die back of the entire above ground portion and still bounce back in the spring with enough new growth to produce fruit later in the summer. But the difficulty in the North is that without sufficient winter protection the roots themselves may die, and of course that is the end of the tree. Italian immigrants to the northeastern part of the country deemed the extra work worthwhile for the sweet figs they could pluck off their own trees at the end of summer, and they introduced the practice of laying the trees down in winter when they first started arriving in this country in the late nineteenth century. The people of this country, almost all descendants of immigrants themselves, can surely appreciate the sweet taste of the fig along with its rich lore and its association with other immigrants and their generous sharing of knowledge; and since a fig is much more in cultures around the world than a simple fruit, perhaps the people of this country of immigrants can even find enlightenment under the fig tree, wherever it grows.
— Izzy


Seeing is Believing


“God does not play dice with the universe.”* ― Albert Einstein (1879-1955)


There are patterns throughout nature, from the rhythm of waves striking the shore, to the sand dune crests farther up the beach, to the leaves and flowers on plants and trees inland. Many of those patterns arise because of physical constraints operating through a medium, for instance the waves rise and fall regularly due to tidal influences from the Moon above and gravity from the Earth below, while sand grains in the dunes react to wind and water, and leaves and flowers allocate space for themselves in tune with the Sun and their plant neighbors.


Beauty of Coconut
The beauty of Coconut (Cocos nucifera) with its radiating pattern of fronds; photo by Krajaras.


An Italian mathematician of the 13th century named Leonardo Fibonacci, more commonly known just as Fibonacci, described natural patterns mathematically and he has since become well known for the Fibonacci sequence of numbers that add to each other infinitely, and for the Golden Ratio of 1.618, denoted in equations by the Greek letter Phi, which when employed in the Fibonacci sequence eventually yields Fibonacci spirals on a large scale. Less well known is that Fibonacci advocated the change from Roman numerals to Hindu-Arabic numerals in his 1202 book Liber Abaci, a book on calculations.


The shell of the nautilus is often cited incorrectly as a Fibonacci spiral. It is actually a logarithmic spiral. For whatever reason, the idea of Fibonacci spirals has taken hold popularly on the internet, to the point that some people appear eager to impose Fibonacci spirals on nature where patterns either hardly exist, or where they could be more accurately described with some other mathematical model. Perhaps the appeal lies in being able to ascribe patterns to a model proposed by one man, and saying “Fibonacci” has a more poetic feel than “logarithmic”. At any rate, there are many more patterns evident in nature than can be put down to chance, and that after all is the definition of a pattern.
Cottonwood one
Looking up along the deeply fissured bark of Cottonwoods (Populus deltoides) into the sunlit canopy of leaves; photo by Atiwis.

Baraka is a 1992 non-narrative film directed by Ron Fricke, with music by Michael Stearns. Fricke has described his film as a “guided meditation”. Baraka means “blessing” in a multitude of languages.

We seem to prefer patterns over chance, and order over chaos, and therefore we sometimes struggle to impose a pattern where perhaps none exists. It comforts us. It can even be a matter of belief. Some of us, maybe most of us, find it unsettling to contemplate a natural world and a universe where things happen randomly with no rhyme or reason. How can you set a schedule for yourself and your family in such a universe when you are unsure what might happen from one moment to the next? How can you plan your life, if you are so inclined? Depending on your belief in the reliability and predictability of the patterns you see in nature, you may be able to conduct your daily life with some confidence everything will go mostly as planned. With that in mind as you go about your everyday affairs, you may take time to notice how the patterns in the natural world around you guide your beliefs, whether or not you believe there is, in turn, someone or other guiding those patterns.
― Izzy