The Stomach Meets the Tree

December 27th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  1 Comment

Sapodilla, yet another tree-food in Key West

Sapodilla, yet another tree-food in Key West

I hope you all had a good Christmas weekend. The holiday was very kind to us and very rough on pigs: we spent the weekend eating bacon for breakfast, roast pork for lunch, lechón asado (yes, grilled suckling pig) for dinner. It was less like Christmas and more like a pagan slaughter-festival.

Through all of this, my two-year-old boy was the leader. He was the first to announce or at least admit to hunger. He’s shaking off the last remnants of pneumonia, and even through his sickness, his appetite barely wavered. He sits in his booster seat, eyeing his food, asking “what’s dat?” and without waiting for a response, shovels great spoonfuls (or handfuls) of it into his mouth. Eating is the one thing he does with concentration and passion, every time.

Before I had kids, I would have maybe been concerned about all this gluttony. I would have wondered if Nico would end up like that poor superobese three-year-old I remember seeing someone cart around the Puyallup Fair back when we lived in Seattle. But I’m not worried. He likes veggies, and we limit his Fanta consumption to one two-liter bottle a day (kidding!).

But seriously, I am, in that visceral way that parents of young children are, delighted to watch the kid eat heartily. Especially since our daughter’s appetite is a wounded, fragile creature.

I’m even learning that my boy might be inclined to understand the world through his stomach. Case in point: botany. Not a subject he’s thought a lot about growing up in New York City, where all the trees are watered with urine.

But we’re vacationing in the town I grew up in, Key West, where the plants tend to demand your attention and respect. The bird of paradise flower looks like it’s about to attack you; heavy mahogany seedpods actually do. Banyans are just humbling to be around, and poincianas rain red leaflings constantly over the whole island.

Yesterday, though, my boy figured out the real genius of the Keys’ flora. In my mom’s yard, he looked up, cocked his head, and said, “what’s dat food in dat tree?” We couldn’t quite figure out what he was talking about: had someone thrown a chicken leg in the ficus? He pointed, though, and it became clear: he was looking at the coconuts on the palm tree, about twenty feet of the ground.

Son, you’re gonna like this place if you like food in trees. My mother lives in one of the older neighborhoods on the island: it’s where all the workers from Gato’s cigar factory were housed over a hundred years ago. The trees are old and abundant. I lived a few years in this part of town as a child, and in the yard of even that modest conch house there were avocado and papaya and mango trees. The banana grew like a weed and had to be cut back constantly. Across the street, a huge tamarind tree flowered in Bayview Park. About the only plant you couldn’t eat in Key West is the corn plant, which must have gotten its name because it grows straight and ugly.

We had our own heavy winds here yesterday (not quite a blizzard, though–apologies to the wife, who is headed back to work up north once the New York airports open this afternoon). It knocked a huge frond off a neighbor’s palm and, with it, a half-dozen coconuts. They look a little old, but I got a couple for the kids and we’re going to open them today to see if there’s good meat inside still. And I’ll be making a point, from now on, of finding all the fruiting trees and plants I can here. I want my son to learn to love this place and the tropics in general the way I do. Besides, the boy is hungry.


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