As a child, I spent a lot of time in trees. For me climbing trees was the surest way to a magical world where I was at once explorer, spy, and superhero. I remember my pleasure when my parents, or even better, unrelated adults started wondering aloud where I was, never dreaming that I was right there above them, and at the same time in another dimension. Time travel, parallel universes, and human flight were subjects that seemed to reside in trees.
The physical pleasure, mixed with not a little fear, of feeling the tree sway with the prevailing wind, carrying me with it through the air, blended seamlessly with my dreams of visiting other worlds, weightless and at the same time somehow richer, more true than the prosaic, earth-bound childhood which unfairly held me in its quotidian grasp.
In Milwaukee, where I grew up, olive trees were not an issue. I understood that there were olive trees in California, but so was Hollywood and liberal politics, equally unreal to me.
It wasn’t until Pia and I came to live in Puglia that we “discovered” the solemn mystery of olive trees—the Greeks called them the tree of immortality— twisted and whorled, majestically evoking both the depth of time and the reach of wind.
Here at la Luna we have something like 80 centuries-old olive trees (I say “we have”, although the humbling local saying is that it’s the farmer who belongs to the olive, not the other way around), and the olive harvest is one of the happiest tasks on our calendar. For Pia and I and a few helpers, it means an excuse to spend day after day in the trees.
This year was a record crop. (The summer was hot, like last year, but unlike 2018, perfectly dry, so the flies— which we don’t combat with chemicals— didn’t have the opportunity to plant their eggs and lay waste to the crop, as they did last year’s.) Consequently the picking was a 3-week marathon, for Pia and Alessandro, for Lamine and Natascia. (I had previous commitments in Germany, so could dedicate but a fortnight.)
We pick our olives by “combing”: after spreading a net, we climbers enter the tree and go at it with a plastic comb or our fingers, while Lamine handles the electric “hand” that tickles the olives off of the branches that we can’t reach.
This year was also a successful harvest, in that nobody fell off of ladders or out of trees: no bones were broken this season. It’s true that every year Pia and I are subject to more aching joints and exhaustion (An early supper and falling asleep on the couch with a cat on our belly is the norm.), but that’s just the normal pulse of time, nudging us to where we will inevitably end, far sooner than the olives will.
And in the meantime, high in the trees, the wind whispers to us that some part of us will always be young, always superheroes, will always find new worlds to explore.
If anyone would like to try some of this year’s amazing crop, don’t hesitate to contact us. Or better, come visit!