catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 9 :: 2009.04.24 — 2009.05.08


Modeling the mango

If you want to see God’s sense of humor, you have to go to Africa in March, seven months after the last rain.  Seven months of heat: the kind of heat that fills the air, thickens it and evaporates your sweat almost before it emerges from your skin.  The kind of endless heat that sucks leaves brown, wrinkles them into hard husks that blow about in the dust where grass once grew. 

The sky burns a hard bright blue, cloudless. Liquid fire, a globe floats across the broad expanse marking time, 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Palm fronds bang against each other, no soft rustles, as the wind stirs them at sunset.

And the mango tree behind my house hangs heavy with the pregnant peachy plumpness of reddening, ripening mangoes.  Finally too heavy for the branch, they fall into the eager black hands of little children.  Their bigger brothers climb the long limbs filling their shirts and bellies full, juice staining streaks across their dust covered cheeks.

Magnificent mango, God’s joke.  Every other tree stands barren, hanging onto a few lifeless leaves while the fifty-foot-tall mango stretches into the sky, lusty, a shade tree laughing in the face of the sun, bearing juicy life-giving fruit when even weeds are distant memories.

They needed to squeeze a church building onto a narrow lot there in the city.  Nothing could be done; the tree had to go.  Machetes, sharpened hatchets and long-armed axes were pulled from dark corners to hack the roots stretching like thick tendons from the base of the tree.  The last root severed, cries of “Run! Run!” rang out, and they waited for the giant to lie down.

But it just stood there, like a nonchalant suitor, waiting to be recognized.  They began to dig around the base of the tree.  There must be a root yet undiscovered.  Down, they dug, down, down, down…they shoveled the dry dirt from the tree’s base, a trunk still thick like an iceberg below the sea.  Down went the tree’s taproot, a quarter mile deep toward the center of the earth, to tap the river that flows cold and wet beneath the desert, the root, a straw sucking moisture a quarter of a mile back up into the juicy fruit hanging like heavy Christmas bells.

Sometimes I feel like a leafless tree in the desert, sucked dry of energy and motivation — faith, even.  Depression blows about like wind evaporating moisture from the leaves.  And then I remember the mango tree’s strategy for survival.  With a taproot extended deep down into the river of life, no wind can blow me down.  No heat can devour me.  No enemy can defeat me.  Like the mango tree, I can survive and even thrive, bearing beautiful fruit in the driest of seasons: God’s joke and mine.

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