“They’re gone!” Claire stood in the yard with her hands on her hips, staring indignantly at the plum tree. She frowned and her eyes narrowed. “Was it the squirrels or was it the birds?!” Squirrels or birds (or both) must have been hungry. The tree that overhangs the tie rails (where we groom and tack the horses) had been full of plums, but it is one of the last ones to ripen. The fruit was still green and it had been stripped.
With the exception of a few, well cared for and hermetically fenced in apricot orchards, what’s left of the rest of the orchards in Los Altos Hills are the rootstock plums upon which the grafts of peach, apricot and nectarine have long since died. But they taste OK and, to the delight of the horse girls, we run into a tree or two about every quarter mile.
The first tree to ripen happened to be at the mail boxes near the Jensen’s barn. Four girls, who could reach the plums easily because they were on horse back, spent twenty minutes gorging themselves on ripe and not so ripe plums, with Cowgirl the pony having the advantage that she was small enough to fit behind the mail boxes and under the guy wire for the utility pole. Freedom, who is not too bright about many things, but never misses a beat when it comes to food, started eating plums off the tree as well. Evidently he liked them. When we stopped at our first plum tree yesterday; one that the squirrels had yet to raid; Claire had to battle Freedom for the fruit. Mostly she won, even though it meant that he regularly dragged her, limbo style, under the pokey, fruit filled branches. With more fruit that she could eat, Claire collected a couple of handfuls of plums into a Chico bag and hung it from the saddle, only to find, seconds later, that Freedom had brought his head around and had tried to eat her collection of plums through the bag. I said, “Claire, you plums have turned to jam.” She said, “No they haven’t. It’s OK. They are just covered with hair and slobber.” (Claire is eleven.)
We can be gone for hours on our rides and the girls routinely pack granola bars and fish crackers. But starting in about February, they keenly eye the trees, vying for the title of who spies the first fruit, which, in agony, they watch for a month or so as it ripens (hence Claire’s indignation). I don’t think they’d eat the plums were they purchased and placed in a bowl on a kitchen table, but straight off the tree, hungry from a ride, they can’t imagine anything better.
Claire proceeded to pick plums off half a dozen trees over the next two hours. But more importantly, she has, in her mind, marked the location and potential ripening date, of all the trees that we routinely pass. Because of her uncanny, pony ability to traverse what appear to be almost vertical surfaces with ease, there are trees, on hills too steep to even reach on foot, that are only accessible by Cowgirl. Even though Claire loves Freedom above all other horses, she’s going to make an occasional exception over the next couple of weeks and take the pony mount for the purpose of tackling even the remote trees. I wonder if she’s going to teach herself to stand on the back of the saddle (to better reach the fruit)? I suspect it’s not the first time that fruit picking was to origin of trick riding!