The uses of manure
The space around the house is given to plants and trees. When we first came, there was nothing except grass, two or three clumps of bananas and some shrubs. At the back was a gentle slope, more a suggestion than the presence of a hill. It had wild guava shrubs. I fenced it with Ipil-ipil, using seeds I had collected during my trips to an island in the course of my work.
The planting began in earnest when a cousin and his wife came to work for us. I had lost the two whistling pine trees in front of the house when a concrete fence was built, but Cousin replaced them with a jackfruit sapling. The succeeding days were busy days. He all but covered the ground with sugar apple seeds, and installed an avocado seedling on the hill behind the house, next to which he fixed a bush of lemon grass stolen from an outlying idle lot, owner unknown, using the Government’s “green revolution program” to excuse his act.
For my part, I brought home a rare species of raintree with pink puffballs given to me by the garden keeper of the company I worked for. I suspected that it was gouged out of the earth by a backhoe because it already had the altitude of years. Not to be outdone, seeing as I was aching to do up my garden, Eldest Sister gifted me with three types of gumamela—yellow, orange and fuchsia. The cacao seedlings from the wife’s aunt’s farm lined up the hill’s edge along the road. A friend’s star fruit (too sour to be confused with the star apple), three cranberries procured from the Carmelites, and Mother’s roses were accommodated where I thought they would thrive. The guyabano came later, as did the citrus.
This morning, the help and I walked about the house and made an inventory of things growing. The cacao, jackfruit, sugar apple and citrus were fruit bearing, but not the cranberry, avocado and at least one star fruit. I felt that they had had their time and debated within myself whether to have them felled and their place given to others more useful and productive.
I would belabor the point if I said that this had a parallel in the Gospel of Luke, particularly in the parable of the fig tree, with which Jesus concluded his preaching on the need for repentance.
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard,” Jesus said, “and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. (So) cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’
In reply, the gardener said to him, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
Wasn’t this likewise what my man said to me, to let our unproductive trees be for the moment, and allow him to make certain interventions. “Such as?” I asked edgily. “Manure,” he said, effectively raising my hackles, the suggestion being too obvious to be viable, and clearly so much less than the expected imaginative, trailblazing strategy. Manure!
But this was exactly what the gardener in the parable suggested—fertilizer. And the fruitfulness that Jesus meant was of the heart (which the fig tree merely suggested), expressed in the acknowledgement of sin and the resolve to change one’s life. All of which calls for, well, humility.
Confirmation of this came from a reference in a web site to the sermon of St. Augustine on the parable of the fig tree. According to it, St. Augustine said that this tree is the human race, which the Lord visited, first, in the time of the patriarchs; second, in the time of the law and the prophets; and, finally, in the time of Christ. The fruitless tree should have been cut down, but Christ interceded with his Father. “[T]he merciful one intercedes with the merciful one…‘Let us leave it,’ he says, ‘this year too. Let us dig a ditch around it… Let us apply a load of manure; perhaps it may bear fruit.”
“Manure is a sign of humility,” said St. Augustine.
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