This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 2, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
After losing the war with the squirrels and birds over the figs for many years, we are declaring total victory this year! Victory came only with the daily help of our daughter and granddaughters, armed with buckets and bowls.
When we bought our home in East Bernard in 1975, one of the very first things we did was to plant the small golden-fig-producing fig tree given to us by my father-in-law. He had a great fondness for fresh figs, and so did my wife and I, though I was even fonder of fig preserves!
In no time, our little fig tree grew into a profusion of limbs and foliage, which we trimmed to be wide rather than tall; however, it ended up being both tall and wide. As the years rolled by, Daddy-in-Law seemed to know when the huge, luscious golden globes of deliciousness would ripen, and would time his visits to get in on the harvest. There was such an abundance of figs, my wife would even can delectably, decadent fig preserves in those Glory Days of the Golden Figs, her father always eager to help with the daily harvest.
And, yes, the harvest had to be daily! You see, the next thing we planted was two pecan trees, one native and one hybrid. Eventually, they produced huge amounts of pecans, which seemed to attract all the squirrels in Wharton County to our yard in East Bernard! At first, the pecan harvest was as abundant as the fig harvest. That is, until the squirrels started eating the nuts while they were still green and had no chance to mature for our picking. This growing population of bushy-tailed rodents also decided to eat our figs while they were still green.
After our beloved Master Harvester of the Figs (and Pecans) went to join Jesus and the Angels in Heaven, the birds started eating the figs, left by the squirrels, as soon as they ripened. By the time we would drift out to the tree with a harvest bucket, the birds had already pecked off the best part of any figs the squirrels overlooked!
For years, our great fig tree and two healthy pecan trees had provided us with an abundance of fruit and nuts, ever enough for the wife to can her heavenly strawberry fig preserves and for the youngest daughter to make her delicious pecan pies, with plenty fresh fruit and nuts left to snack on. Without my father-in-law’s aggressive leadership in the wars against the squirrels and birds, my wife and I were reduced to buying pecans and doing without figs (which also meant doing without strawberry fig preserves).
In the meantime, our older daughter had married and started her own family in East Bernard, and our younger daughter had moved to New York, leaving us old folks to cope with the squirrels and birds. Alone, we continued to lose the battle with the bushy tails and the feathered ones!
Until our East Bernard daughter, with our granddaughters, came to our rescue! Having been a soldier in the fig and pecan wars over the years, and loving fresh figs, strawberry fig preserves, and pecans, the daughter came daily with her girls, armed with bowls and buckets, to help us win the latest war. They aggressively picked figs every morning, occasionally bringing their two Shetland-pony-sized dogs.
The birds were scared of the girls, and the squirrels were terrified of the dogs, so our militant family unit was able to recapture and reclaim the fig tree! And the ripe figs! The squirrels still think they control the pecan crop, but we will see. With figs, in overflowing containers being brought in the house, I felt like hoisting a victory flag above the fig tree. At least the War of the Fig Tree is won! For now, anyway! We’ll have to celebrate by canning strawberry fig preserves once again.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.