Fruits and Roots

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A few years ago when California was suffering from a periodic state budget calamity, conservative pundits jested about cutting California free to operate as its own economy. An email circulated at the time pointing out what the other 49 states might possibly miss when The Republic of California was sovereign: almonds, artichokes, apricots, plums and prunes. Oh, and federal tax revenues paid by Californians, far in excess of the amount returned to the state by the federal government.

The imbalance in taxes and spending was interesting, but it was the fruit imbalance that hit home. Even putting aside commercial agriculture, you can't swing a garden stake around here without hitting someone who is growing strawberries in a pot or persimmons on a tree in the front yard. As someone who grew up in New York with one frost-bitten cherry tree, forever competing with birds for its harvest, the abundance of casual fruit farming here never ceases to enchant me.

At our first house in Oakland, we had a wizened plum tree in our tiny yard, and a thicket of blackberries that separated our house from our neighbor's. At our second house, I bought a ginormous terra cotta pot and planted a lemon tree. Then a gardener pointed out a lemon tree in the backyard, in a bed of poison oak behind some tangled rhododendrons. Who would have planted a lemon tree there? The answer is, no one -- someone probably threw a slice of lemon from their gin and tonic off the porch, and a citrus tree happened.

An acquaintance of mine married a wealthy man and invited a mutual friend down to Silicon Valley for coffee and, we suspected, to gloat. "You have to come see the orchard," she told my friend. "It's fabulous!" My Marina-studio-apartment-dwelling friend called me on the way back home to report. "Her orchard is three fruit trees in a cluster," she said. "By her standards, I have an orchard on my fire escape."

The sunny days, the proximity to the ocean, the European vibe of San Francisco -- it's all very appealing. But it's the sight of tiny red strawberries growing in the middle of an untended corner of my backyard that tell me I've put down my roots in the right place.


With a Perspective, I'm Nancy Kho.