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Harvesting Papayas

by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

A papaya tree grows outside my front door. It "volunteered" from a seed rinsed out of my compost bucket four or five years ago. Its roots found some water on their own, because, I am ashamed to say, I did nothing to help it. Now, my strategy of stacking a chair on top of a table does not suffice to reach the papayas. It is so tall that I need a ladder to harvest the fruit.

Most of the residents of this short cerrada (dead-end), were born here. The alley once went through to what is now the plaza in front of the Church of San Antonio. Back then there was no plaza, just an open, unpaved space, dusty or muddy depending on the season.

The church, exercising some Divine Right, illegally built what is now the alley's back wall, and another fronting on the plaza, taking possession of that part of the alley. They robbed that once public space, adding it to their rear patio and building on it where it runs alongside the church. I'm not complaining. Their theft adds to my privacy and quiet.

With eyes more of this place than mine, some of my neighbors have watched with interest the growth, and fruits, of my papaya tree. When it was no more than six feet tall, I shared its first fruits with the abuelita Anita, who lives a few doors away. Later, when standing on a table was still an effective harvesting technique, I shared some with Jamie, who lives next door to Anita. Jamie, having worked in a kosher restaurant in LA, along with flawless English, knows a little Yiddish. Who would have thought?

Periodically, the papaya tree has a long fruitless hiatus. In these phases, it puts all its energy into growing taller. Recently, from its newly improved stature, it did flower again. Then, two months ago, I notice a new crop of papayas growing out. Anita noticed, too, making some small talk about it when I was passing one day. "Necesito una escalera," I need a ladder, I told her. "Tengo una," I've got one, she replied.

Right outside my front door, at the base of the tree, right in front of the alley's back wall, I tore up the cobbles and planted a new patch of garden. As with so much of life, what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. It took a bit of digging and prying to get the larger stones out. While I was working at it a few weeks ago, a very small papaya plopped to the ground right behind me. It survived the fall intact. I took a break, took it inside, washed it off and spooned out its ripe, deliciously sweet orange flesh.

Back outside, looking up, I observed that a number of other papayas started "blushing," trading their green color for an orangish yellow. My dear friend Veronica, with better gardening instincts than mine, told me I needed to climb up and harvest those, to make room for the others. She assured me that they would finish ripening off the tree.

Yesterday, while the sun was making up its mind to set, I knocked on Anita's door and asked to borrow her ladder. Inviting me in, she indicated a handsome, homemade, wooden ladder suspended from two hooks, lengthwise down the long wall of her entry hall, just a little above my own height. Reaching up, managing its weight, balancing its awkwardness and avoiding most of its dustiness, I got it through her narrow front door without incident.

While Anita and her housemate, another viejita (little old lady) looked on from in front of their house, I set the ladder up against my front wall and climbed up with a bag slung over my shoulder.

The density of the fruits' growth pattern makes the cutting of their stems a little tricky, as does balancing on a homemade wooden ladder. I first probed with my fingers, another dusty affair, not suited for those with arachnophobia. Then I extracted a serrated steak-knife from my bag and, delicately inserting it into a gap, gingerly sawed away. The main caution at that point, besides maintaining my balance on the ladder and being ready to catch the fruit when it detaches, was to not puncture other, yet green papayas.

In this manner I took one then two of the fruit, putting those in the bag, while the knife was clasped between my teeth. Anita's housemate called over and up, asking me if she might be of service by taking those papayas. No, I've got this, I assured and thanked her and went on cutting away, reminding myself of a pirate in a sailing ship making repairs high up in the rigging.

With five papayas taken I climbed down, took the knife out of my mouth, and, the bag still hanging from my shoulder, upended the ladder. After placing my bounty on terra firma outside her door, I returned the antique to its hooks in Anita's entryway. Then, in a fit of generosity, I reached into the bag and gave the women two papayas, the largest and another fine specimen.

A moment later, having sobered up after examining the three smallish fruit I had left, one marred by plague and one broken and bruised. I knocked on the door again and apologetically traded my one smaller, healthy papaya for the large one I had just given them.

Returning to the tree, I saw two or three more blushing papayas still aloft and thought that I should harvest those also. With that in mind, in the now gathering dusk, I went and knocked, now the third time, on her door, explaining that I wanted to go back up for a couple that I missed.

With perfect grace she invited me in, and as I was taking the ladder down, asked me if I didn't have a space in my little house to keep it for the night. Replying that I had, she told me to take it, that she had another, metal ladder. I thanked her and carried it off. Already dark, I left the rest of the harvest for the morrow.

This morning, Wednesday, I woke with something other than papayas on my mind. I was quite aware that I had yet to begin this week's article, that I need to have ready by tomorrow, Thursday, to publish on my Friday newsletter. I meditated on a topic, while performing my toilette, without success. That is to say, my toilette was successful, but I didn't find a subject to write on.

From there, I made my way into the kitchen. There the cat, at his usual station, eagerly awaited the morning's freshening addition to the food already in his bowl. Fellini, after a certain amount of having his head pushed, not always gently, out of the way, has learned to wait until I finish shaking his kibble from a wide-mouth jar into his bowl before pouncing on it. Formerly, as soon as the first pieces fell, he would thrust his small, savage skull into the food's trajectory, thus scattering the remainder of the yet falling kibble across the floor.

There is a common dictum that draws a distinction between thinking of oneself as a physical being having a spiritual experience and considering oneself as a spiritual being having a physical experience. I would add to this a third alternative. It is not that the physical and spiritual world reflect each other. It is that they are the same.

Considering the world's state of affairs, that the physical is the spiritual has disturbing implications. According to this way of thinking, there is no realm of heavenly order standing in contrast to the chaos we see here on Earth. Around us we see a war between a synthetic, simulated, manufactured reality (consumerism, the cult of celebrity, social media, algorithmic artificial intelligence, politics, the evening news, the metaverse...) and an authentic, holistic, soulful experience of living. That this conflict has no overseeing Judge, who will tilt the balance in our favor, is the critical difference with standard religiousity. It is the xxx spiritual battle that is ours to lose, perhaps forever.

The bad news is that almost everyone is distracted by the clown show that is modern culture. The good news is that the universe is forever giving us opportunities to wake up.

Help with an earlier harvest

There, standing barefoot in my kitchen, screwing the wide lid back on the jar, I had one of these little awakenings. It dawned on me that in some very real, very important sense, I have been just like my cat. I have been thrusting my head too eagerly in, blocking the flow of abundance, scattering the goodness that would have concentrated in my bowl.

At a loss for a subject, jar still in hand, I suddenly realized one. The whole time, it's been right here: to resist the false narrative; to stop my greedy little head, with its false narratives, from blocking the fullness of life; to get out of the way. With that, I have my story. But before writing it, before the sun comes around the corner of the house, I'm going to go back up the ladder and get those blushing papayas.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will change the world, city by city.

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