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July 15, 2024

How Almonds Are

By Sand Pilarski

Almond trees in the Valley in California have a schedule for living that is as picky as if they had a union.

They will allow rain through mid-February, and then it must stop raining, thank you very much, for them to bloom the third week of February. At that point they explode like heated pinkish-white popcorn and dazzle the eyes of visitors and old Valley residents alike. Oceans of white! Straight long rows of white! Humming, buzzing forests of white with the pollen-coated workers from imported boxes of bees frantically crawling over the snowy blushing blossoms.

Then the blossoms fall, and the wind is filled with white petals. The breeze-blown specks sift like a snowfall between the rows of trees, and look, there are the tiny green leaves already pushing out. It’s spring, the trees have made it official, and now it can rain -- a few more times would be nice, thank you once again, then let us alone to grow these profitable little pods.

Irrigation water floods the orchards every ten days, making still lakes with even rows reflected in their distances forever. Crop dusters zoomed past in the spring, but now the green lines have magpies, with their white and iridescent black blue green feathers, pretty as parrots; and thousands of scrub jays, and armies of yellow finches, and shy bluebirds chattering and sailing through their branches. Beneath the limbs of the trees, as they grow heavier and heavier with their fuzzy growing fruit, coyotes dance and sing, and try to sneak up on the accursed grey ground squirrels, who chirp at the coyotes and feral cats like the sound of a smoke alarm with a bad battery.

Around the end of August, the weakest branches of the almond trees crack and break under the weight of the nuts. The farmers swoop through the dusty orchards, vacuuming the ground with squat wheeled machines that clean the ground, ready for the treasure to drop. Fom late August until Halloween the Valley air is clotted with the dust from the orchards: the vacuuming, the shaking, the vacuuming, the shaking and vacuuming of the second crop. Then the trees, battered and dazed-looking from the clamps and the vibrations of the monster shaking machines, are ready to go dormant with the fall weather. Now the Almond Tree Union will permit the rains to begin again, and rains will nurse them round through fogs and frost, for three and a half months of sleep, until the blossoms bring them center stage again.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2002-09-07
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