When we first moved to Santa Rosa, a town of 30,000 amid ranches, orchards and redwoods, I didn’t realize that the neighbor children who were attacking passing cars and yelling, “Throw bombs!” were hurling wild yellow plums.
Later, after we moved deeper into the valley, away from the child soldiers, and settled into country living, I began to roam the fields and noticed the wild yellow plum trees growing without fertilizer and no other water than what was provided by the winter rains and dense foggy nights. The children and I gathered the plums and found them to be tasty when ripe, and we tried to harvest them before the birds devoured them.
Then one day, leafing through Barbara Kafka’s cookbook Microwave Gourmet, I read: “If you find those little gold-yellow plums called mirabelles, cook them for 12 minutes. The jam will be a wonderful yellow color and smell like honey.” Our plums do not smell like honey, but are yellow and edible when cooked with sugar or honey.
Those days when the children and I picked plums and wild berries, and planted tulip bulbs, sugar snap peas, mache, Italian parsley and asparagus fern, have linked me to living more fully. I wake with the rising sun and in the evening look to the west for vivid sunsets. l watch birds build nests, stop to smell the sweet fragrance of daphne blooming in early spring, and much more.
Now the wild yellow plum trees dot the landscape, thanks to the birds who eat them and drop the seeds wherever. The mother tree still stands at the foot of our drive, dropping her fruit when ripe. One day, my husband of 60 years pointed out a wild yellow plum growing in the midst of a large California black oak. The plum pushed her way through the dark dense undergrowth of the oak, seeking the sun. And there she stands near our pond, displaying her white petals, like a beautiful older woman who has just had her hair styled and likes the way she looks.
Lolly Mesches lives in Bennett Valley, Santa Rosa.
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