Four slowly ripening mystery fruits are hanging from two spindly espaliered branches of my former favorite pluot tree. And the suspense is killing me.
A pluot tree is a hybrid cross between an apricot and plum tree. And it yields my very favorite stone fruit. In fact, I am already drooling in anticipation of a tree-ripened, still-warm-from-the-summer-sun, magenta orb of ecstasy lovingly plucked from my very own Lazarus tree. I'm just not sure if I'm engaging in Fool's Drool.
My sainted mother gifted me with this particular pluot tree, along with a grafted apple, a dozen years ago when I moved into my little Rogue River cottage. Each summer I'd wait in anxious anticipation for the pluots to reach the perfect stage of ripeness, foolishly fussing about nibbles from foraging bird beaks, sighing with delight once my precious babies were ripe enough to fall gently into my eager hand at the lightest touch.
Then one tragic summer's day in 2008, I wandered out into my mini-orchard and saw that my favorite tree was listing badly to starboard. Closer inspection showed the pluot tree had become a late-night victim of the buck-toothed marauder I'd dubbed Bucky B. Beaver.
My screams of anguish nearly split the eardrums of my visiting sis and her daughter. A few days earlier the dratted beaver had attacked the apple tree, leaving only a stump and carrying its branches down my boat launch and out into the river.
I'd taken pains to protect the pluot once I knew Bucky was on the prowl. But my efforts proved unsuccessful. My sis and niece left me to mourn the water-rodent's pilfering then returned that afternoon bearing two little pluot saplings. I planted the new additions as far from the river as property rights would allow.
Two years later, after a frost-laden spring and a hot, dry summer, I harvested the first tiny crop of pluots off the struggling trees. Small in size, their flavor held promise. But they were not nearly as good as my mama's tree.
Last year one of the little pluots succumbed to frost. Or gophers. Or wounded feelings. I moved his brother down next to what was left of Mom's trees. I hadn't been able to get myself to pull their beaver-ravaged stumps. It felt like kicking a tree when it's down. Besides, they were still sending out suckers and leafy little branches each spring. I'd been training the few straggling shoots onto my fence in a futile hope that they might bear something. Someday.
The apple tree offered up a few blossoms this spring. But nothing remotely fruitlike. The beaver-munched pluot surprised me by bursting forth with about two dozen tiny blossoms, which resulted in about half as many tiny green balls.
More nervous than an expectant mother, I've watched the orbs battle wind, rain and the curious beaks of my resident family of crows. These onslaughts reduced the number of anticipatory fruits down to the remaining four.
Each morning I check my babies' progress. Each evening, too. Are they still there? Are they ripe enough for plucking? In fact, are they even pluots? That's the $64,000 question.
The problem is I have no idea whether the beaver toppled the tree above or below its root stock. And the answer will determine the difference between hybrid heaven and ho-hum. Unfortunately, I'm no Master Gardener. In fact, as regular readers can attest, I can barely schlep water.
A couple weeks ago, I rescued three half-ripe fruits from the grass and stuck them in my sunny kitchen windowsill. While they did change color, they did not increase in size. Nor did they soften from their rock-hard state. I sampled a purplish one. It was sour enough to pucker my kisser for several seconds. I tossed their wizened brethren last night. And checked the tree again this morning.
The four mystery fruits bear zero resemblance to an apricot. But I fear they could be plums. I hate to leave everybody hanging. That's just the way it is — until the pluot plops.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.