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A tree grew in San Francisco

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San Francisco, where I live, is a city with many cosmopolitan aspects.

But unlike, say, New York City, where the City Never Sleeps, one problem with S.F. for nocturnally oriented types like me, is that it does start snoozing around 2:00 AM, the time the bars close here.

There are a few after-hours places, if what you want is to go get a hamburger and sit on a plastic diner seat, but for refreshment of the spirit there’s not really anywhere much to go.

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But by night as by day, the picturesqueness of the city itself pays off, if you just feel like going for a walk.

Since I like to have a destination when I set out, I’ve often made mine the Safeway on Market Street, more than a mile from my apartment.

It’s always open, though an obstacle course for people like me; aisles in the wee hours are blocked with crates and boxes, or entire sections are closed off for floor cleaning, as practiced by slow-moving, unmotivated low-pay grocery workers. Still, that’s part of the challenge, and the place is technically open.

A few years ago I discovered something interesting as I walked there. On my ramble, as I crossed Market at Church, I noticed something curious about a palm tree growing in front of an otherwise undistinguished restaurant.

The place is in a traffic island, not particularly well landscaped. The tree is the only attempt at sprucing up the space that occupies the property’s eastern end. A battered trash can surrounded by litter is the only other object there. But–

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There was something funny about the tree.

A few drooping branches radiated from the thick, pine-cone like trunk of the palm. These, I saw, were distinguished with entirely the wrong kind of leaves, and with clustered yellow fruits. Dates? But this tree is not a date palm. Nor were these dates.

I picked one– and discovered that they were loquats.

Loquats, also called Japanese plums, have nothing to do with palm trees. They are flowering plants of the family Rosaceae. Although palms also are technically flowering plants, the loquat, originally native to central China, is not of the family Arecaceae, as all palms are.

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And I know the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), and it does not grow on a palm tree.

Just the same, here were the yellow fruit.

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Loquats, for those who don’t know them, taste rather like cherries– though the taste may significantly differ from tree to tree. The smooth, glossy skins have a little bit of peach-like fuzz, easily rubbed away with the thumb. Though the individual fruit never grows larger than a golf ball (and that would be a big one), inside are several large, smooth seeds. These take up most of the space in the fruit, but the rest, which surrounds the seed, is more than ordinarily delicious.

The seeds too are interesting. They look as if they were smoothly finished and varnished. I have seen necklaces made of these seeds.

Another property of the seeds is that if you toss them, they tend to bounce and keep on going, for a hundred feet, sometimes, if you throw them right.

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It must have been– this is all I can suppose– that there was originally a small loquat tree in that spot which grew inside the palm. That, or the palm grew around it, obscuring all but a few branches.

However it happened, there it was. I wasn’t the only one who knew about it– after the fruit ripened it would sometimes disappear overnight.

There are homeless people who know the location of every tree that bears edible fruit, and they knew about this one.

To get any fruit you had to hit it just right, when the loquats were ripe enough to pick, but hadn’t yet been opportunistically harvested.

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A minor oddity, but a feature of my walk. I have watched the tree through several seasons. On my way back from the store, I’ve brought the fruits back to ripen on my window sill.

Until the other night.

When I walked by, the tree had been brutalized.

The palm itself has been roughly cut back, leaving only a few battered fronds. Whoever did it, so savagely and inexpertly, may have needlessly killed the palm.

And of course, of the loquat branches there is now no sign. The inexpert butchery of the tree has removed them.

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I will watch for them in the next few years, but I have few hopes the inner tree can survive, with no branches and leaves to reach such sunlight as it used to get.

Oh, damn them, the idiots, with their inability to appreciate something beautiful and useful.

One more idiosyncratic thing now excised from San Francisco. Damn their unwillingness to observe. Damn their uncaring nature, their one-size-fits all insensitivity to living things.

Damn them.

Hal Robins is a renowned underground comic artist and his work has appeared in Last Gasp’s Weirdo, Salon Magazine’s Dark Hotel and many other publications. For decades he has been the co-host of KPFA-Pacifica Radio’s “Puzzling Evidence” program. Reverend Hal is the Master of Church Secrets for The Church of the SubGenius. As Dr. Howland Owll, he has served as MC for many unique San Francisco events, and is the principle of The Ask Dr. Hal Show, still currently running both as a live staged event and in-studio on Radio Valencia (radiovalencia.fm) Friday evenings. Hal contributed his unique vocal talents to the award-winning interactive game Half-Life.


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