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Alone in the Garden with a Passion Fruit

Posted Oct 31 2010 4:14am
I arrived there early, alone, as the sun was just starting to drop in the sky.  I heard the distant sound of toddler laughter, the boink of a tennis ball, the call of a bird I've yet to learn to identify.  I smelled the dirt, saw the zinnias amidst the decay, felt the finally cool breeze of fall.

I began to pull the spent plants up--the Sunray Yellow and Crookneck squash, the Heirloom Green Grape and Hungarian Heart tomatoes, the General Lee cucumber and North Star peppers, their little plant markers still next to them in the thick, deep, soil that had been planted by teens in spring and tended by children all summer long at camp .

Untangling the long, smooth vines that wound their way around the Giant Orange marigolds, I saw them dangling, the fruit of the passion flower, sometimes called maypops.  
I smiled at these old friends of mine, having discovered them several years ago, having written about them, having learned that the passion vine is the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, that pretty orange one with the three white dots on each wing.  I found myself missing the brilliant, exotic purple flowers of this plant, which were no longer in bloom. I had heard that the outrageously beautiful and ornate passion flower looked as if it were designed by a group of six-year-old girls who were told not to stop until all the glitter and paint was gone.  My younger daughter and I had gathered caterpillars from this vine years ago and put them in a butterfly "house" and shared them with her kindergarten class, where they morphed into butterflies and were set free by little hands that now belong to 10-year-olds.

I had discovered that first time, when I researched, that they say once you taste the fruit of the passion flower, you will crave it the rest of your life. I had waited and debated for three days before I had tasted the hen-egg-sized green treasure with the almost pomegranate-like sacked seeds inside. "Did I need to be craving forever something that I had as of yet never tasted or wanted?" I had wondered.
Many people arrived to help clear out this garden for winter cover cropping and spring cultivation for those in need, the sound of their cars proceeding slowly on the gravel road signaling their arrival.  Children from a middle school after-school club came, none of them from schools with school gardens, I discovered as we chatted.  I had saved passion fruit for them to take home.  They asked if they could eat it then but I suggested they never taste something that grows wild (as these do) until they research it first.  These children on the brink of becoming teens were still so young, so inexperienced.  They giggled a lot and mostly liked to stab the soil with the pitchfork and run the stirrup hoe over earth that was already as soft and fluffy as it would be.  They avoided the plants with pricklies, the harder patches.  Did they really need to taste something they would crave the rest of their lives?  Would that be a blessing or a curse?  I didn't want to be the one to do that to them.
I found the remains of a gourd, nothing left but its paper-mache-like outer shell.  It was horribly interesting and clearly valuable, like finding a bird's nest.  I gave it to the one girl who worked the hardest, who didn't seem to be part of the group, who was off on her own digging diligently.  I wondered perhaps if she had already tasted the passion fruit, if she had already found her calling, her passion in life.  I wondered what would become of her, so tender and fragile like that gourd, like all of us in some way, yet somehow certain of the woman she was becoming.  She smiled broadly and I knew I had chosen the right person.  And then she left, as did the others.  As did the mom and her home-schooled son, and a good, solid handful of other community garden members who had come to help when they heard help was needed, as they tend to do, somehow miraculously, over and over again.
And I was once again alone, in the garden, with a passion fruit, its shell cracked, its seeds revealed, its temptation calling.  Yes, I had tasted it that first time way back when.  And I had made its passion part of me.  And I will crave it, this passion to dig, this passion to feed, this passion to learn and to share what I learn, the rest of my life.

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