Our Neighborhood is Our Orchard

Going back to school means reconnecting with friends and colleagues I haven’t seen since June. It means repeatedly answering the question, “How was your summer?” to which I repeatedly reply, “It was amazing!” I am always grateful for this time we get to recharge, but this summer was especially rewarding. I learned to take better care of me this summer. And because of that, I’ve been including in my response, with confidence and a smile, “I am refreshed and ready for the new year!” I put on my own oxygen mask first this summer, so now I can focus on the children.

One of the most important routines I put into practice this summer was taking a walk. A walk – not for exercise or to get to a specific destination. I’ve been calling them “meditation walks” –  a walk to clear my head, calm my body and mind, and take in the beauty around me. Never before this summer did I realize how beautiful the neighborhood trees look in the setting sun. I slowed down and tuned in to the simple details around me and felt like I was seeing for the first time.

It was on one of these kinds of walks that I noticed the plums. I can’t remember what grabbed my attention – the shriveled-up purple skeletons hanging on to their pits on the sidewalk or the canopy above me that seemed to reveal more purple orbs inside the tree than on the outside. I reached up to feel one perfectly ripe plum and a light bulb went off in my head – I should pick these. I continued my walk home only to notice more fruit trees all around me, ready for the picking. When I got home, I grabbed a notepad and some tape and went back up the road.

At the risk of looking crazy, I left a note on my neighbor’s door. This led to our connecting, me bringing my ladder over and harvesting 20 pounds of delicious, ripe plums, which I’m still preserving. I can’t wait to share my gratitude with my neighbor via a mason jar. And I can’t help but think of The Alchemist, one of my favorite books.

My sister recently reminded me of a scene from the book where the main character is told by a man to walk through this palace carrying a container of oil. He is warned not to spill any of the oil, so he walks through the palace, dead set on his task. He emerges, proud of himself for accomplishing his mission. No oil was lost. But when the man asks him if he saw the beautiful tapestries and decorations on the walls, he hadn’t seen them at all. He was so focused on the oil, his objective and destination, he missed out on the journey. As we speed walk through life, what bounty are we passing by? More than 20 pounds of plums, I’m sure.

So, I guess that means I’m a gleaner now. Did you know there’s a name for this type of urban foraging? And I wonder why there aren’t more of us. I’ll admit I felt hesitant to presume that my neighbors might want the help, but then I remembered that we’re all just trying to keep up. If I am willing to pick and preserve the harvest for both of us, doesn’t that serve us both? And yes, I’m trying to grow as much food in my yard as I can, but I can’t grow everything. I saw a quote recently that said, “Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something.” It reminds me of the power of community and I remember that there’s no need to try and do everything. I’m in the process of shifting my focus from the oil to the tapestries around me and as I wipe off the plum juice that drips down my chin, I think to myself, it’s time to slow my gait. With so much gratitude, I realize our neighborhood is our orchard. And here in Maple Leaf all I see is abundance. So, what’s growing in your neighborhood?

Seriously, The Alchemist is one amazing book! I highly recommend it if you’ve never read it. We’ve found though that the book calls to you when you’re ready to read it. I’ve recommended it to many a friend, including my sister, and they never got around to reading it. And then, when they finally picked it up, it was exactly what they needed to hear. It’s cool like that. 

5 thoughts on “Our Neighborhood is Our Orchard

  1. Holli

    Yes! Gleaning is fun and a great way to get to know your neighbors:)
    We have 2 Fig Trees, 1 Asian Pear, 4 Plums and plenty of blackberries patches within a 3 block radius of our home (which is mostly a container garden space).
    Good for you taking care of yourself this summer, and spreading some gleaning inspiration.

  2. Eric

    You write beautifully!!! I think I could taste a plum for a moment there.

    Isn’t that the key though…? Finding a way to “…serve us both.”

    I will purposefully be gleaning a little more this week; looking for ways to “serve us both.” Can you tell that is my favorite, right there?

  3. Debs

    Ours is a new neighborhood, built upon a spent gravel pit. There are not many fruit trees. I see hope planted here and there. Skinny little things growing tall in the shadow of McMansions. Sometimes I look at perfect lawns (mine is NOT) and wonder how they got that way, rejecting even clippings from that yard for my compost. But…. there are places that could not be built upon, places people send their dogs to “go” because they are not allowed to do so on those lawns. If I step lightly I can find wild herbs, berries, and the last of the wild rose hips. Just last autumn, in the setting light that drew my gaze out and up, I saw a lone pear hanging like an ornament in a tree just over the fence! My husband imported some mason bees for our own tiny orchard, maybe this fall the falling leaves will reveal more than just one pear next door.
    Debs of the Toy Box Suburban Farm

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