Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy Jeanette Martin’

Pecan Harvesting
Image by lierne via Flickr

When was it that I began to perform work toward some positive result?  Not an easy answer.  Gather up my toys?  Make my bed?  Put those dirty drawers in the hamper?  Most of my early toil seems to have been compensating for the mess I had made of my surroundings.  Such strivings are at best unremarkable.  It was only when I began to see work as labor of love that it became worth thinking and writing about.

I first experienced creating sweat equity with my Aunt Judy harvesting paper-shelled Texas pecans.  “Picking-up-pecans” is something most all Texans do, and are proud of it.  They are the best pecans in the world, with shells so thin and crisp they can be cracked open by placing two nuts in your fist and squeezing.  They crack each other open, exposing the golden nodules of deliciousness hidden in those thin dainty shells.  Unlike the wizened desiccated carcasses purveyed in supermarkets, these freshly opened nuts are light blonde, and frankly plump, straining to surround the moist and oily life they contain.  The taste of Texas pecan is complex and rewarding above all other nuts.  Maybe bragging about native pecans is how Texans first developed that unattractive braggadocio so often complained about by visitors.

Picking up pecans is a leveler of persons.  Anybody can be a whopping success if they have the “stick-to-it-ive-ness” required to fill their bucket.  It puts everybody on their knees, a metaphor for the humility requisite to a mature humanity.  Picking up pecans puts everybody in their jeans.  Rugged cotton dungarees are called for, without apology.

Pickers start out close together, kneeling companionably in the challenging mix of newly fallen nuts and leavings from past seasons that cover the late persisting green of St. Augustine grass.  It takes articulate hands to stir the jumble, and good eyes to spy the prize.  Squirrels and previous pickers have shucked early nuts leaving the detritus of outer casings, stems, and even a few of last year’s crop ignored by last years’ extra-picky pickers.  Not all nuts are equal: some waited to fall until their outer cases opened, drying, and curling away, jutting prideful like a new-formed woman-child leading coyly with her breasts, the perfectly ripe pecans ready and waiting, offering themselves to the whims of wind and gravity.  Those nuts are the best, tasting ripe and ready.  Others, shaken or beaten down with poles, still tightly cased, can be shucked and harvested, but will have a flavor that hints of greenness, not quite readiness, a stingy resentment at being taken before their time.

As the day flows, the pickers spread, seeking solitude or far-fallen nutty treasure.  Their shared subtle excitement recalls Easter egg hunts, with the predictable joy of spying a colored egg beaming its improbable spectra from left-over winter deadfall and drab.  The day chosen for the pecan harvest is always dry, mostly clear, a bit windy, with scraps of cloud scudding before the irritable breezes that portend the harsh bluster of Halloween night, shuddering stripped cornstalks, bound, standing straight and sere, amid the sturdy roundness of pumpkins waiting to be taken for pie or lit candles.  The loveliness of the autumn day is all the more beautiful compared against approaching winter storms roaring down out of the north.  We pickers don’t want to think about “Blue-Northers” just yet and pick harder and faster.  Those long winter nights are when we’ll gather by the fire and shell our pecans for the coming year’s pecan pies, pecan fudge, pecan divinity, pecan pralines, and pecan you-name-it, whichever of thousands of cherished family recipes.

Finally comes the time that distinguishes the men from the boys.  In Texas they still say such things.  Eventually the children, distracted and bored, drift away to flirt with whatever excitement can be found.  Adults, enjoying a task that provides time for meditation without the guilt of idleness, continue until buckets are filled to overflowing.  Knees protest, and oldsters regain their feet with groans and aching joints. 

The task completed yields satisfaction and gratitude to the trees for their bounty.  Some departing pickers, given to considering the poetry of nature, stop to admire the giant trees, their lovely symmetry, the fractal geometry of their branching, the stability of their bold expression, the love manifest by their root systems in intimate conjunction with the mother of us all.  Others, more practical, load the full buckets, round up the kids, chide the laggard poets, and head for home.  There’ll be pecans again next year, both to eat and to rhapsodize about.  Picking up Texas pecans is a perfect example of work becoming its own reward.

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