Today is a story about a tree. An unbelievable series of stories about a tree. It's a pomegranate tree, to be exact, that's in our front yard and it's been a bigger part of our lives over the past year than we ever could have imagined.
Last fruiting season, we posted about the bizarre happenings on our personal social media accounts, and the response was shock, amazement, anger… It caused enough waves that people are still texting, sending voice messages and even videos asking about what is happening with the tree. It seems it was the most memorable thing we posted all last year. Followed by the baby.
With the first flowers appearing on the tree for the season, we thought it was time to decide how we are going to approach things this year, and to include you along on the journey, because at this point all of you, whether we have met in person or not, are like our extended family.
When we arrived back in Melbourne, Australia last year, we went back to live in the home Hai grew up in. In the front yard is a massive pomegranate tree that Hai planted himself with his mum about 30 years ago. So you can imagine the size of the tree now. It's fully matured and produces several hundred pomegranates each year. Huge, amazing pomegranates that in a usual year Hai's mum sells to Asian grocery stores for $5 a pop.
We did a lot of cleaning up of the house when we got back, clearing a lot of old things and helping his mum with some household tasks that were difficult for her to do on her own. Seeing the way we KonMari'd the whole house, she made sure, absolutely sure, that we understood not to prune the pomegranate tree. “Of course, no problem.” A few days later, “Seriously, don't touch it until after it's done fruiting.” Don't worry, má, we got it.
So everything was good, baby was home and healthy, and the tree started to fruit. We had looked forward to trying them but otherwise we hadn't really thought much about it. To our surprise, however, the pomegranates were causing quite the public interest.
People were stopping and staring, and taking photos. One woman appeared to be doing a Facebook live of it. Then a group of Vietnamese women were loudly discussing etiquette and strategy on the sidewalk. Hai was listening in from the upstairs window and he said they had decided that if anything came over the fence line it would be fair game. ?
We didn't mind that people were interested in the tree or about giving away fruit to our neighbours or friendly passersby. The tree produces a lot of fruit and it feels nice to share, especially in these trying times. But what we were shocked by was the number of people who leaned over the fence and picked super unripe fruit for the sake of it or entered our yard without permission. Sometimes it would happen multiple times a day.
One afternoon, Hai heard the tree rustling (again!) so he went outside to find a woman in our front yard. She had opened the gate and come right in to help herself. When Hai went out she said matter-of-factly, “I'm making pomegranate tea!” Hai said, “Well that's nice, but next time please come knock on the door and ask first.” She said nothing, only nodded, then left, taking the fruit she had already picked with her. Only to double-back a minute or so later to come pick up the pole she had left in our front yard. Yep, she had come prepared with equipment to raid that tree!
More welcome than the human raiders were the rainbow lorikeets, who would come for a smorgasbord every day. But nevertheless we didn't want them pecking open all the fruit and we couldn't just stand at the upstairs window all day, ready to give branches a shake whenever they descended. So in order for the fruit not to go to waste, we did several large harvests.
The tree is massive so it's a bit of a process getting them down. We can reach some by hand that are low-hanging or from the second-storey window, but the rest we need to cut down with an extendable tree pruner and catch in a bucket.
When Hai was out there cutting down the fruit, he'd offer some to those walking past. “Take your pick,” he'd say and would cut down their selection for them. He also made a concerted effort to give some to our neighbours. He'd been keeping an eye out for them leaving or coming back but this wasn't happening much as the pandemic had already started, so it took a while to get to everybody.
That made the fact that so many people were out and about visiting our tree all the more baffling – we were supposed to be staying at home. I'm pretty sure trespassing was not one of the four essential reasons to leave your home!
Our neighbours were really happy to receive the fruit. It actually hadn't been any of them who had been stealing. Some people just happened by the tree as they went for a walk and it was a crime of opportunity, but the reaction we got from some people seemed to indicate the tree had been earmarked by people in the area and it's something they do every year. Their only surprise was that someone was home to catch them (which again, shouldn't be surprising in a pandemic).
They came in pairs or small groups, happily chatting away and discussing which ones to get while wrangling their tools. They were indignant as to why taking someone's property would be frowned upon. Like one of our friends said, “You should have told the pomegranate tea lady you'd be over later to partake and that you'd also be looking through her pantry for ingredients to take home as you need to make dinner!”
While we had planned to give many away anyway, having so many stolen by people who clearly had no respect for us or the tree meant that we felt even more compelled to give them away to people who would appreciate them. We cut down all the ones within arms' reach and offered them to people in the local area, to whom we could do a socially distanced drop-off. We kept a bucket filled by the door so if we saw anyone admiring the tree, we could offer them some that had been cut down with the proper tool, rather than ripped down, damaging the branches. Unfortunately, unless we were physically outside, in the seconds between someone stopping as they were passing by and me getting out of my chair to go open the door and ask, they were already helping themselves. Sigh.
So in amongst a few nice interactions – we met a man who lived on a nearby street who had five kids to whom we gladly gave a whole bag – for the most part the stealing continued.
We caught so many people in the act.
I saw one couple seemingly admiring the tree and just as I was about to go out and offer some, the woman stands up on the fence, snatches one, ripping part of the branch with it, and makes a run for it. Her partner had already made a head start and left the scene.
Another guy opened the gate and helped himself. When Hai said hello and asked him what he was doing from the upstairs window, he said, “I'm just grabbing a pomegranate.” “Please knock on the door and ask next time,” Hai told him. He claimed that he did. Only I was watching the whole thing from the downstairs window right under the tree. I tapped on the window. When he saw that he had been caught in his lie, he made a quick escape.
When the tree finally reached the end of the fruiting season, it was sort of a relief. While we love it when the tree fruits, it was becoming frustrating having to deal with people on the daily, who just couldn't understand that it wasn't OK to take fruit from someone's tree without asking.
But it took until the fruit was done for us to experience the craziest episode yet. This day we saw and heard the whole tree shaking. Hai looks down from the nursery on the 2nd floor where we were sitting at the time and sees two people with a hacksaw cutting an entire branch off the tree!
Hai yells at them from the window that they shouldn't be doing that without asking. They literally opened the gate, entered our yard and brought a saw along to cut our tree! Despite knowing that someone was home and being asked to stop, they continued cutting.
Hai then went outside and explained to them that they can't be doing that. They didn't even seem phased and continued working away. “We're making medicine with it,” thinking that was enough of an explanation. “It's not about what you are using it for. You should have knocked on the door and asked,” Hai told them.
“We did but you didn't answer.” Again, another lie. We were just a couple of meters' away in the complete silence of a lockdown. We hear it when someone knocks.
Hai explained to them that even if they did, if we didn't answer, that doesn't give them permission to hack at our tree. “Well, can we take this branch?” “You've already cut into it, so take it. But please don't do that again.”
It was pretty clear that they were trying to propagate the tree to grow one for themselves, which actually would have been fine if they had asked and when we decided on how we wanted to prune it, we would have welcomed them to take the cuttings. We thought the end of the fruiting season would mean the pomo stealers would no longer visit. Nope, they just up their game.
The tree went bare for a while and then very quickly regenerated. It's already covered in lush green leaves again and the very first flowers are appearing, telling us that not so far in the distant future we will once again have a tree full of fruit.
We've had quite a few suggestions about what we should do this year.
Here are some of them:
“I would put a sign up talking about security cameras, that parts of the tree are being isolated due to COVID (the plant version) and to ask about the healthy fruits for sale.”
“Put up a sign that the tree is in self isolation and practicising self social distancing. Please respect our trees right to a safe and secure home.”
“Find some funny “get outta here” style rant on YouTube to play. Home Alone style scare tactics.”
“Time to place a poster at the front gate. PomPom tour and charge 10bucks a pop xD”
“Fake security sign? Beware of dog?”
“Strange… set up a proximity system that says “Intruder Alert!'”
“Write a sign on the gate – “Pomegranates for sale, $5 each. Ring bell if you would like to purchase.”
“Maybe put a sign up and say please wait until fruit is ripe and please ask if you would like some.”
What do you think? What should we do about it this year?