Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Bitter Fruit--Crab Apples & Horse Chesnuts
The civic trees in the last two cities I have lived in bespeak a certain puritanical bent. In Vancouver, beautiful chestnut trees grace many of the older streets and boulevards. In Ottawa, areas of a similar age are planted with apple trees. But, sadly for the poor, care has been taken to ensure that the fruit they drop each year is not edible (or at least, not without a great deal of preparation). The crabapples are bitter, and although one or two of these tiny fruit may be pleasing in the same way that Sweetarts are, more than this causes gastrointestinal distress. The horse chestnuts up the ante—their outer layer is poisonous and their inner layer must be carefully boiled to avoid acting as an emetic.
Both cities began planting these trees in the 1930s. In the midst of the depression, the decision was made to plant fruiting trees that would not provide sustenance to the poor and indigent. This is the kind of compassion we have come to expect from our politicians, grounded in the fundamental work ethic of the puritans. Why should people get something for nothing? Unless, of course, they are the very wealthy contributors to the politicians campaigns. In which case, their neighbourhoods can expect to have a greater preponderance of parks, libraries, and recreation facilities.
Three seasons a year I am grateful for these trees; the stark silhouette against the winter sun, the first tender leaves of spring followed by a delicate flowering, and then the exuberant green canopies that shade the blistering sidewalks. But in autumn, I begin to dislike these trees. They become ugly, a reminder of broken promises made to the poor. They remind me that I live in a culture that prefers to disdain anyone who has fallen along the wayside. In autumn, these trees are not beautiful to the thousands of children who go hungry every day in these rich cities. They are beautiful only to those who are blind to the inequities around them.