For the love of apricots
I love apricots. It’s true. I love apricots better than apricots themselves do. A petit-sized fruit, smaller than a peach and drier flesh, too. The color of sunset – a rich, deep, orange-yellow hue.
I love apricots – the small, sweet type. A little soft to the touch, like an early peach, when ripe.
I love apricots – the perfect fruit. Perfect for jam, a crumble, some tart dessert, too. And nice in a Danish. Nothing plainish will do.
I love apricots at breakfast time. With a muffin or toast and a cup of French roast, I spread on the jam, sweet and sublime. I think apricots are also lovely in a scone. Sometimes the flavor is better than eaten alone.
I love apricots – a tangible pleasure, to be savored and shared in an afternoon of leisure. Topped with whipped cream and dusted with cocoa powder, they’re a summery dream, a tangy-sweet encounter.
I think apricots are a treat supreme, any day better than plain vanilla ice cream.
The fresh scent of apricots evokes pleasant sensations, served raw, dried, or cooked in countless creations. Apricots with pork and apricots with chicken are two favorite dishes to cook in my kitchen.
A whiff of their full-on fruity sweetness brings to mind baking and warm completeness. Apricots brighten and apricots balance. Apricots have many laudable talents.
The apricot is a small, pretty tree – a self-fruitful wonder needing neither butterfly nor bee. She pollinates herself from one flower to another, with the help of wind, rain, and gentle thunder.
She ushers in summer like an expectant June bride, wearing green leaves – ovate, long, and wide. Hot by day and cool by night are conditions that favor her fruit’s delight.
Her flowers of five petals are white to pale pink – like those of her sister, the juicy white peach. They are born singly or pairs in early spring, if the tree survives frost and disease pests can bring.
Suspended from branches in a dense, spreading canopy, the apricot fruits in her splendid panoply.
With blushing, rose-colored cheeks exposed to the sun, her skin turns soft and velvety on the run. The apricot tree finds her summer stride in all the love that soil, sun, and water provide.
I take the small apricot in my left hand and enjoy the first bite that my hunger commands. So natural and light, it soothes and excites, its flesh firm and tangy like apricot brandy.
The first burst of fruity plump jubilance and warmth waters my mouth with appealing assurance henceforth.
I smile and surmise there underlies a secret pint-sized apricot prize. The single seed is enclosed in a shell – a hard, grainy stone wherein magic dwells.
I spit out the stone before reaching for more – the joy in my heart of an apricot evermore. Apricot, oh, Apricot, it’s you I adore.
You’re the Moon of the Faithful in a quiet resting place. You’re the golden-pink hue of my mother’s face.
You’re the soft mellow center of my hard, grainy shell. You’re the unique flavor I know but cannot tell.
You liberate me from the commonplace berry. I can be myself and dance the Contrary.
I love the apricot – the ripe, sun-filled apricot – you see.
And the apricot – the ripe, sun-filled apricot – loves me.
Apricot medicine story
A note about the term Contrary: The Contraries of the Plains Indians are individuals committed to an extraordinary lifestyle in which they do the opposite of what others normally do, like ride a horse backwards, dance backwards, speak words backwards, wear clothes inside-out, say things others are too afraid to say, provoke laughter in distressing or sad situations, and behave in ways that challenge social norms and taboos. The Lakota word heyoka, which means “opposites,” represents a variety of contrary behavior and individuals, including LGBTQ relationships. In ceremonial dances, it is considered an honor to dance the part of the Contrary, or heyoka.
My friend Miya, who was a member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Native American Indian tribe, taught me about apricot medicine. She said that the apricot represents the harmony between the inside and the outside. It takes courage to show up in the world as our authentic selves and speak our authentic truth rather than what we think someone else expects of us or wants to see and hear from us.
One day many years ago, Miya and I were walking together on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Before parting from each other for an uncertain period of time, we had a long conversation about our relationship and our feelings for each other.
Deep into our conversation, Miya took two dried apricots from her pocket, offered me one, put the other in her mouth, and chewed it thoughtfully. Then she said, “I don’t know what else to say to you, Hunka. These are my people. They feel hopeless. I have to help them. I cannot turn away from them.”
Mindfully chewing and appreciating the apricot she had given me, hoping it would somehow relieve the pressure I felt inside, I mirrored back to her, “I know, Miya. I know you have to help them. I know you have to stay here. And I know they may not trust me.”
Miya sighed audibly and smiled slowly and said, “I will remember that you have not asked for anything from me or them. And you haven’t broken any promises. You have shared only friendship and love and laughter and music and work with me during our time together. I believe that our love will be safe, always.”
I sighed and smiled slowly also. “Well then,” I said, “that’s good enough for me.”
But there was a weight on my heart. In that time and place, I wished for something more than safe, but I wasn’t prepared to stay in South Dakota and she wasn’t prepared to leave. I knew life held no guarantees. We told each other how we felt, in both English and Lakota languages, and then we parted. We didn’t know at the time, but it would be three years before we would see each other again. We were just two horses running in different directions.
We had many merry meetings and reluctant partings after that day, but that particular exchange stayed with me. I remember the dried apricots in Miya’s pocket. It was her custom to eat apricots before a sensitive, high-stakes conversation that called for emotional honesty and courage.
After she died in late February of 2019, I danced the part of the Contrary in the giveaway ceremony that celebrated her life. It was what she had requested. I danced backwards and tossed dried apricots to members of her family and tribe.
As Miya taught me, apricot medicine, good friends, and loving family members encourage us to be as we are. It is essential that we tell others what moves us and what we really think and feel, regardless of how contrary it might be to what we think is expected of us.
Then, as now, there was a lot of talk about “getting back to normal” and what the “new normal” might be. Then, as now, I rejected that language. There is no normal to get back to, no new normal to get used to. There is only life. And love.
Composed on May 8-9, 2020 – after enjoying a nice evening with a diverse group of women for a Virtual Ladies Happy Hour via Zoom. A friend and colleague has been hosting weekly get-togethers since the first week of April during the COVID-19 emergency. Whether the individual women who participate each week have known each other for years or are just meeting each other for the first time over Zoom, my experience is that we feel comfortable together, have good conversations, say what we really think and feel, and meet and accept each other as we are. And we laugh a lot! The exchanges help me cope with this emergency and accept the uncertainty of it all. I bring myself to each hour and I feel good.
It is also fitting to write and share this piece for Mother’s Day because apricots, known as “Moons of the Faithful” in China where they originated, are said to enhance women’s fertility.