I step out of the car at my sister’s, nose to nose with the most electrifyingly blue drupes.
Are those crickets I hear?
You know, drupes. Heavily protected seeds with awesome survival techniques.
No? OK, peaches. Plums. Apricots. Almonds. These are all drupes. You might call them fruits (or nuts). The drupes currently hanging near my nose are attached to Susie’s Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus, and they will be a smorgasbord for birds as they ripen.
It’s impossible to capture the play of light on the light green stems that contrast so nicely with the deep blue fruit, but I have to try. Even the scent of my sister’s handmade pizza wafting out the door doesn’t stop me from standing there for a few minutes, fiddling with the camera and delighting in the play of light and color.
Drupes are one of Nature’s smart inventions. They work in a most delicious way, too.
It’s all about protecting the delicate seed inside, and a drupe does that by encasing that seed in a very hard substance known as an endocarp. We call it a stone or a pit.
It then wraps that highly protective casing in a thick, tasty layer of flesh known as a mesocarp. We just call it tasty, especially if it’s a juicy, perfectly ripe peach.
And as if that weren’t enough, it wraps that fruity goodness in a thin layer of skin known as an exocarp to protect everything inside from whatever the elements may shower upon it. We just call that peach fuzz (if it’s that peach we hold).
It’s that rich, sweet mesocarpish inner flesh that entices animals to enjoy and, by enjoying, to help spread that heavily protected seed through, well, feces. And that’s after it makes the journey through their digestive acids, which helps soften the stone so when it lands (in a prime, already fertilized spot, one hopes), the seed deep inside sprouts and cracks the weakened endocarp. Thus the spiral of life continues as that seed reaches deep into the earth for nutrients and stretches high toward the skies for sustenance. Nature wins, and if nature wins, we certainly do, too.
Of course, that’s not even the coolest part of my two-minute nose-to-drupe reverie in my sister’s front yard.
We – all of us – are drupes. Our skin (exocarp) surrounds and protects that most amazing system of muscles, tendons, and ligaments (mesocarp — the inner flesh that forms us, makes us human, attracts others to us). Deeper yet are the bones (endocarp) that knit us into our human shape and give us the means to protect ourselves.
While you might think that those three elements are there to protect our vital organs, I actually would argue that what makes us walking drupes isn’t our organs (although they’re vitally important) but our psyche – our inner spirit or soul.
So as I stand here with this burgeoning analogy filling my thoughts, I’m filled with sorrow at how often we pamper our exocarp with lotions and clothing and ink and makeup, and nurture our mesocarp to be attractive and to attract others, and cultivate our endocarp to be strong and functional … yet we keep that delicate seed – the psyche – buried deep inside, afraid to let it crack through, lest it find itself on unfertile ground and wither instead of sprouting, stretching toward the skies, and thriving.
I’m grateful today for drupes, because they don’t worry about that. They just do it, and it works for them. I suspect it will work for us, too, if we simply trust that we’ll find the fertile ground so necessary for us to reach for the skies. After all, we’re drupes. We’ve got this.