As a teacher of high school literature, I taught my students how every life conflict falls into one of four categories: Man vs. God, Man vs. Man, Man vs. Himself, and Man vs. Nature.
Every summer, it’s Me vs. the Blackbirds.
I planted a fig tree more than 30 years ago. A knee-high little thing with brown leaves and a death wish, gotten for half price at a local nursery long since out of business with the coming of the super stores. I loved it and nurtured it. Over many summers, it’s grown enormous and abundant with fruit. Even when Hurricane Opal broke its branches and drenched it in salt water, it prospered.
Its only real enemy seems to be the ravenous blackbirds, which feast on its figs.
I’ve deployed several weapons to prevent an avian victory. On the recommendation of somebody or another, I tied aluminum pie pans to the branches. The sun flashing onto the pans and the breeze moving them about was supposed to terrify the birds into flying away. Instead, the rascals only preened themselves in the reflection as they munched on my figs. In fact, they like to eat one bite out of each fig and move on to the next, ensuring that every piece of fruit is unfit for human consumption.
Then I put a huge plastic owl on a pole and staked it up through the tree. Its head became the birds’ favorite resting place while gorging themselves on figs. They also weren’t impressed with the rubber snakes I wound up through the branches. Once, forgetting I’d put them there, I brushed up against the “snakes,” screamed, dropped my basket of figs, and ran for the house.
I bought a tree net from a garden catalog. It was guaranteed to keep birds from landing, and if they tried, their little feet would get caught up in the mesh. So, I struggled on the ladder to place the huge piece of webbing over the top and drape it “just so” down to the ground. It looked great. The chief problem-solver for the blackbird community was then called in, and after a council meeting at the base of the fig tree, they all flew UP and UNDER the net to have lunch. Not only was my net tactic a failure, but it got caught up in the lawn mower, causing me additional aggravation.
A neighbor recommended shooting them with a pellet gun. My conscience wouldn’t allow that.
The last resort was to install a wire from the garage roof to the top of the tree. Gliding up and down the wire was a big yellow balloon with multi-colored streamers and menacing silver eyes. The garden department lady at Home Depot assured me this was the ultimate weapon in the arsenal against fine-feathered fig filchers. Not only did it not work, but the dog became so frightened of it, that she refused to go out into the backyard to potty. She just stayed on the back porch barking at it, so we took the contraption down.
I might try the advice of my fellow fig tree defender, Dave Perkins. He goes out to his tree when the fruit begins to ripen. Summoning the birds, he has a talk with them. They work out a mutually beneficial arrangement for fig sharing. He says the birds like to have a schedule, so they’ll know when they can access the figs and when it’s Dave’s turn.
Don’t laugh. My “bird whisperer” friend avows this contract works on mutual respect. It’s a God thing for Dave who says he didn’t create the tree, the figs, or the birds, and the One who did likes to see his creatures live in harmony.
Jesus told His disciples, “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”
While the obvious meaning is that summer is here when the abundant leaves have covered winter’s bare branches, and the green buds have turned sweet and brown, the deeper meaning according to Bible scholars predicts the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world.
Maybe those pesky blackbirds are aware of the parable’s eschatological applications and are eating their fill of my juicy figs before the world comes to an end.
In these days of oil spills, three-eyed frogs, and dying magnolia trees, it would seem that nature is losing the survival battle against man.
So, as a tree-hugging friend of nature, I’m conceding the fig fight to the birds. Maybe they’ll graciously leave me enough for a jar of preserves.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.