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Coast Chronicles: The persistence of plums


Observer column

Published on September 11, 2018 1:26PM

Cate Gable’s toppled over plum tree has continued to produce fruit since the Big Blow of 2007.


Cate Gable’s toppled over plum tree has continued to produce fruit since the Big Blow of 2007.

Over a decade ago, our Big Blow — the hurricane of ’07 — knocked my old plum tree cockeyed, nearly toppled it over, tried to yank it out of the ground. Though it’s now almost sideways to the earth, my tree has persisted all these years with a few muscly roots, like sprung tendons, bare on top of the ground. Yet, year after year, it has continued to produce sweet green gage plums that ripen in phases over the course of late summer.

Earlier this spring, some knowledgeable gardening friends house-sat for me and pruned my fruit trees — apple, pear, cherry — and lopped off many of my plum’s damaged branches, fitting a prosthesis leg under its main trunk. (I’ve heard now from Kathleen Davies and Nancy Allen, who are researching old fruit trees on the Peninsula, that leaving older damaged trees alone and untrimmed may be the best policy — perhaps sort of like not recommending elective surgery for an elder.) Though I was saddened by its cropped appearance, it bloomed right on schedule. And in these last warm dry weeks, I’ve been trying to beat the crows to its ripening fruit.

I carefully creep up the ladder and reach around me pinching plums, hanging like beautiful blue Christmas globes, checking for a certain softness — hard to describe but easy to recognize when you feel it. And for the last week, I’ve harvested 8-10 plums a day. Even my pup Jackson has taken a liking to them. He finds plums that the crows have knocked off and taken only a few pecks out of. Then he either dances around the yard with his treasure; or lies down to nibble at it under the shade of the fuchsia hedge.

Cycles and seasons

My tree is responding to a universal cycle, which exists outside of my ken. When I look at my plum tree now, compared to its glory days, I recognize its impoverishment. But my tree pays that no never-mind, following its natural course through the seasons, unaware of my remorse or my anthropomorphising its deterioration or potential demise.

This morning when I crept up the ladder again, it occurred to me that in some ways my plum tree is like our democracy: maybe it’s wounded or “ has seen better days,” but it’s plodding along on its own path in tune with a deeper rhythm. Its systems are still, largely, intact; it’s still doing what fruit trees do.

Believe me, I’m not implying that our democracy doesn’t need tending — of course it does. I provide my plum tree with water when not enough is coming down from the sky; I fertilize it at appropriate times; I sit under it and admire its shade. Likewise, we must educate ourselves about our democracy and the representatives we entrust with its cultivation. We must be prepared to knowledgably exercise our voting privileges every single time there is an election.

We must still lovingly tend to our democracy and appreciate its fruits.

Justice system out of synch

The current spectacle engulfing the Supreme Court — and, in fact, all of the swirling chaos in the White House — is part of a long history of democratic drama. Our democracy has never been a steady state. Its swings of power ricochet from liberal to conservative, from overbearing misjudgment (think of the McCarthy era) to more-or-less eventual reason. Our current era simply indicates we’re in a rough patch of interstitial ground between states. Where we’re headed looks uncertain.

We have a head of state who is unschooled in the norms of governing and has shown no inclination to want to confirm to protocol even if he understood it. It seems his base revels in his thumb-in-the-eye style of brawling, his bullying personality and fake facts. How much other government allies, who well know the standard ways of presiding as head of state, have been willing to accept our leader’s deviance and outrage in exchange for pressing through their agenda is shocking. But we should remember that this is not new.

Look how long McCarthyism was allowed to reign and ruin lives. Remember how intricate and tenacious the detective work had to be to rout out Nixon.

And, yes, we are entering an era probably decades-long when the already right-leaning Supreme Court will be demonstrably out of step with the majority of the American people. A few examples: Pew Research polling indicates that 57 percent of all Americans want abortion to be legal and accessible to women. For Evangelical Protestants, the rates are even higher, with seven of ten or 70 percent supporting abortion. 80 percent of unaffiliated Americans say abortion should be legal. Two-thirds of Republicans (65 percent) say abortion should be legal; three-quarters (75 percent) of Democrats agree, as well as 60 percent of Independents.

Between 67-72 percent of Americans feel that separating families at the border is unacceptable (so far the courts have agreed on this). Between 32-51 percent of Americans say the wall is a good idea (differing polls come up with different numbers); 48 percent say “No wall!” 87 percent say they want the Dreamers to be allowed to stay in the U.S.

There will be more disparity between the Supreme Court rulings and the opinions of the general population as our younger generations mature. Young adults — now in their early 20s and 30s are more liberal, ethnically diverse, multi-cultural, cis-gendered, and will soon make up the majority of voting and working citizens in our country.

58 Percent of current Americans aren’t fans of Trump, yet he’s seating Supreme Court and lower court appointees who will be in the justice system for decades. Since we only vote for president every four years yet the sitting Supreme Court justices are appointed for life guarantees that their opinions will be more and more at odds with the values of our changing citizenry.


It’s difficult to see how this discrepancy will be solved anytime soon. As the division between the justice system and the opinions of everyday Americans grows, our democracy will experience these growing pains more directly. In other eras, elected officials facing this dilemma have tried different approaches: packing the court, unpacking the court, recommending more judges or fewer judges, or proposing term limits. How resilient will our democracy be faced with this coming challenge?

One glimmer of hope is the rise of new candidates entering our mid-terms. Over 200 women House candidates, from both parties, have won their primaries. Even in the Senate a record number — 19 women — are on the docket. This is perhaps due to a combination of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements and the unconscionable misogyny of many highly-visible government officials. This wave of female energy can only bode well for our ailing democracy. (Women CEOs make more money for their stockholders — fortune.com/2017/08/01/female-ceo-stock-returns — and there are many studies now indicating patients of women doctors are healthier.)

As the notorious RBG has said, “So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’ve been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Well, Republican, Democrat, male, female — who knows what our future democracy will look like? I’m just wishing I could splice onto my struggling plum tree some similarly new transformative energy. In the meantime I’ll be channeling my feminine side — I’m home making jam.


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