Hello from North Haven!
Growing up without a Jewish community, I missed out on a lot of holidays. Chanukah was a gimme, since it coincided with that other winter holiday. Rosh Hoshanah meant apples and honey, Purim meant hamentaschen. Passover was the big family gathering. But some of the others, including Tu Bishvat, didn’t make it into the rotation.
This year, for whatever reason, Tu Bishvat seems to have landed in the social media spotlight. The “Rosh Hoshanah for the Trees” doesn’t start until tomorrow at sundown, but I’ve seen Pinterest-worthy fruit plates and centerpieces, and even fruit and vegetable-related crafts galore on all my networks. I don’t know much about Tu Bishvat, but I love trees, eating fruit, and finding a way to break up the chilly monotony of late January, so I decided to do a little research:
Tu Bishvat makes sense if you consider the Mediterranean origins of Judaism. There, the rainy fall season (whose beginning is marked by the Sukkot celebration) gives way four months later to fruitful trees such as olives, dates and pomegranates (unlike here in the frozen North, where the only sign of life from trees is the early sap running during the January thaw). Thus, the harvest would mark the beginning of a new cycle of rest, flowering, and fruitfulness, a new year for the trees. (Marking the annual cycles of fruiting trees was also really important because of agricultural tithes paid to different tribes and to the poor.)
I don’t have plans for a Tu Bishvat celebration this year – I’m not sure I could put together the requisite types of fruit in time for a fruit seder, as wonderful as it sounds, and it’s the wrong season for tree planting. Maybe next year, now that Tu Bishvat is getting more widespread recognition, I’ll plan ahead and have friends over to enjoy a vegetarian meal highlighting fruits and nuts and wine. It might be just the thing to shake off the doldrums. In the meantime, Tu Bishvat is reminding me to prune my dormant apple trees, and to cut back the water sprouts on my forsythia and beauty bush before spring.
The lens of Tu Bishvat adds a little coincidental significance to a lovely tree encounter from this weekend, too. Bill, Penrose and I took advantage of temperatures in the mid-40s to take ourselves, the dog, and a kite up to the golf course. The ground was covered in icy slush in spots, muddy in others, and a spring of ground water had erupted at the base of a hill. An ancient behemoth of a maple tree looms over the beginning of the course, and as we headed back to the car after an hour of trying to get the kite to fly and exploring, Penrose made a detour.
She hoisted herself up on the mossy roots to pat the jagged bark, peering into a small hole in the trunk. “This is where a woodpecker was…it could be the nose, and here are the eyes,” she said, tracing anthropomorphic features. She found a stick on the ground, a blowdown from the tree itself, and reached it up as high as she could.
“I’m touching the tree higher up, so it knows I’m here.” She circled the tree. Bill and Claude, the dachshund, were almost back to the car. I reminded her that we were leaving. She became distraught.
“The tree will be lonely! The tree will miss me!” She kept circling and patting. After a full rotation, she set her stick down. “Goodbye, tree,” she said. “We’ll be back soon.” A jogger crested the hill behind us, and Penrose was reassured that the tree wouldn’t be alone for long. She patted its bark again and then trotted off towards the car, tracing a path through the muddiest puddles.
In the Pine Tree State, Tu Bishvat is a holiday to honor one of our most important resources. It’s also an opportunity to feast on sweet fruits at a time when our own crops are out of rotation. I’ll add it to my family’s celebrations next year – how about you?