Queen Ann Cherries

Thoughts on Stolen Fruit

"To Spirits foul, & all my trees their prey,
With whose stolen fruit Man once more to delude."

-Paradise Lost
by John Milton


"What can I do about people stealing fruit from our yard?" asked a fellow gardener, continuing, "This is a problem throughout the neighborhood. One neighbor had all her cherries stolen before she could pick them, & the thief had to bring a ladder & climb a five foot fence to get them within a four hour period while she was away."

This query got me thinking about a friend of mine who was likewise convinced someone in the neighborhood came into her front yard & picked all the cherries off her tree, leaving not one. In response, she put up a sign by the sidewalk, with an unhappy/angry message, hoping the thief would read about the owner's feelings.

But I don't think there is really any doubt that birds got them, as they can do in the blink of an eye.

Still, people do steal fruits. I planted plum trees by the road with the expectation that kids walking to school in the morning & workers on their way to the dockyard afoot would pick what's in arm's reach. I don't mind. Indeed, the trees were planted with that purpose in mind.

But if someone came with a ladder & got them all so that neither I nor the neighborhood kids could grab a few at leisure, that would be very distressing. A little anger is understandable, as even God got peevish when his fruits were filched.

Since nothing can be done about it, it is best to let it slide & try not to feel a blind grudge against an unknown invader. And consider, if some thief other than the birds did swipe those cherries, maybe that unfortunate felon was just that desparate for something good in their diet. The lives of thieves are frought with failure & desparation.

On the other hand, some such thefts have a gentler underpinning. For instance, once when I was test-driving a car I was on the verge of buying, its rumpled owner in the passesnger seat beside me, he suddenly called excitedly to pull over to the curb. He jumped out of the car & began gathering up rusty worm-nibbled apples that had fallen from two small green-margin trees in front of a private home.

He did not pick from branches, but took only what had fallen. He jumped back in the car & a little embarrassed by his own actions, explained that the apples had been going to waste, so he'd been claiming the fallen ones for several days, these having provided him with lunches & dinners.

The degree of his rumpledness & the emergency need to sell the car became more obvious.

Lastly, the report of fruit theft reminded me of someone I knew as a child:

Many of the neighborhood kids were afraid of Mr. Lambert, who lived reclusively in a small unpainted house in the middle of an orchard of mixed fruit trees, like some weird old warlock of the woods.

He was actually a kind & lonely man, but I'll forgo telling a half-dozen Mr. Lambert stories & skip to the end, when it took a couple weeks before anyone even noticed he hadn't been out in his gardens for a couple weeks, & sent someone to find his body.

In decades to follow, after his abandoned property went wild & his house fell down into a heap of rubble, the fruit trees continued to produce every year. As an adult I would drive out to his place seasonally to harvest apples, pears, & cherries of sundry kinds, with no one's permission.

After about twenty years of free harvests, I went out there one last time & saw to my horror that in the intervening year since my last journey, the woodsy orchard had vanished without even one tree left. In their place, a dozen ugly prefab houses were arranged around a paved cul de sac.

I wonder often if I'm the last person on earth who remembers Mr. Lambert.


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