“you breathed like a tree in the quiet light’

olive flowers

Yesterday I was sitting with my coffee in the greenhouse when I caught the faintest scent in the air. What was it? Not the smell of tomato plants or damp soil. Not the scented geranium cuttings on the long bench. But right at my feet, the olive tree was blooming.

I have three small olive trees. One of them, the one with blossoms, is Arbequina. It’s self-fruitful but I know that the blossoms are wind-pollinated. My intention was to keep the tree outside for the milder months but I’ve read that deer love the leaves and the greenhouse is right on the desire path of the does that pass through our place in every season, feeding on anything they can find. Cherry sprouts, roses (if not caged), grape leaves…Almost every day the door to the greenhouse is open and there’s a roof vent too. When I saw that the flowers on the olive were opening, I gave the tree a gentle shake. Pale gold pollen fell from one cluster so I think that might do it.

The olive trees with the wrinkles of our fathers
the rocks with the wisdom of our fathers
and our brother’s blood alive on the earth
were a vital joy, a rich pattern
for the souls who knew their prayer.
 
I have two other olive trees, smaller, found on a half-price table at the grocery store in Sechelt. They had no tags but I recognized they were olives and checked with the woman responsible for the plant area to confirm. She didn’t know the variety. No blossoms on them, not yet, but I’m hopeful for the future.
 
basil and small olive
 
Sleep wrapped you in green leaves like a tree
you breathed like a tree in the quiet light
 
When I think of olives, I think of Greece. I think of Crete where I lived for a time as a young woman, renting a room in a house owned by a woman called Aphrodite. She owned an olive grove with her family and once I went with them to help with the harvest. They used something like a broom (homemade) to brush the olives from the trees to loosely woven sheets spread on the ground below. The village had a press operated by donkeys who walked in patient circles as the stones pressed the olives and oil ran into little channels to buckets.  Aphrodite poured fresh green oil into small bowls and we dipped bread into it. Maybe that’s what I was remembering as I sat in the blue chair and smelled the olive blossoms, maybe that’s the dream I’m hoping to pursue with my three little trees. An Arbequina will begin to produce at three years. Only 2% of flowers will result in olives. Maybe this year there will be a handful to pick and cure and who knows, maybe the other two trees will surprise me with blossoms in a year or two. Looking out at the greenhouse, I am seeing it suddenly as a moment in the future, grey-green leaves pressed to its ceiling, its walls, reaching for the vent. 
 
The harbour is old, I can’t wait any longer
for the friend who left the island with the pine trees
for the friend who left the island with the plane trees
for the friend who left for the open sea.
 
 
Note: the passages of poetry are from “Mythistorema” by George Seferis, translated by Edmund Keeley
 
 

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