Posted by: Rachel | July 19, 2015

the tree is still there…

I don’t think it is cheating to publish a piece I wrote for my writer’s group, do you? Especially if it is “food-relevant”. So, here is what I wrote for this month. Our prompt (we take turns coming up with them) was “The tree. The tree is still there.”

I had an idea, but as I researched I discovered some information that upset me. I incorporated it in this story, and have no idea why I didn’t know about this earlier! Oh good heavens…
The tree. The tree is still there.

Ladies and gentlemen of the planning commission, thank you for your time. I am here to ask, no, to beg your attention.

My great-great-grandfather Vincenzo, whose name I carry, planted the trees in question. At that time our family owned a few hectares of soil, poor as it was and riddled with limestone. Family history says he chose the spot because the view of the sea. My great-great-grandmother came from north of here. She had blue eyes, blue as the sea, and he loved her and loved the sea, or so the story goes.

Even though he knew he’d not live to see any yield from them, in addition to fig trees, he planted the flatter part of his land, my land, in olive saplings and of course planted grape vines on the slopes. Always had an eye to the future, he did.

If we were nobles, our family motto would certainly be “Oggi Fichi, Olive Domani”. That was my great-great-grandfather. “Figs for today, olives for tomorrow”, and he somehow kept the family’s land safe and added a few more hectares when he could. No one knows just how he got the money for the land, but sometimes it is better not to ask too many questions, si?

He lived there happily and he and my great-great-grandmother raised the 9 children that survived childbirth and infancy. They had a few goats, and they fished just off the point below the small round white stone “trullo” house that my great-great-grandfather built of stacked stones. They gathered whelks and sea urchins at low tide, and by all accounts they were happy.

trullo house

trullo turned masseria

My great-grandfather was their eldest son, and the land went to him.

My great-grandfather lived quietly, married a local girl, and, as family history tells us, started building the farm house that stands on the land today. Of course, he kept the smaller round “trullo” house as well, and salvaged a few of the stones from it for the great fireplace in the kitchen of the new masseria.

It was backbreaking work, pulling stones from the fields to build the house and walls, but he had a lot of determination and all those trees to protect, and he had his 6 boys and 2 girls to help him.

That was well over a hundred years ago. As you can imagine, the remaining trees and vines have seen some changes to the land around here. The trees that are still standing have survived freezes, torrential rains, and two great wars. I know that you may think that the Great War was fought far north of here in the mountains above the Veneto, but my family survived the British blockade and we managed to stay even when there was seemingly nothing to eat because of the sea.

The Second War ravaged parts of our countryside, but the sea provided for us again, and the trees stood.

This land has seen changes in government, the great unification, and most recently our entry into the EU. What was once a quiet farm and olive grove outside a simple village is now being reinvented as a hotel; now it is a masseria for tourists. If my trees could talk…

healthy happy harvest 2013

healthy happy harvest 2013

But my point is this: we are currently faced with the greatest danger to our countryside that we have faced so far. No one wants to talk about it for fear of bringing it here perhaps, but we must arm ourselves as far as possible against this scourge.

It may not look like much, but the trees just south of here are quietly dying from this pestilential plague. It is an outbreak, carried by some tiny insects that chew the leaves and poison the trees. The government seems faintly interested, but we must act locally to stop this at our border. Never mind unification, we must act independently since no one will help us.

This bacteria, for I understand that is what it is, chokes the trees of water and kills them. Irrigation does nothing; this bacteria simply robs the trees of life. The government’s idea at the moment seems to be to try to create a line of demarkation between our trees and those to the south, but I don’t trust the government.

I trust you, Guiseppe, and you, Paulo, and you, Cesare and the rest of you because I know you. Our families have all lived here for generations, we are all members of the same olio cooperativo, and we all rely on our trees for both our livelihood and for the shade and beauty.

Let us work together with the local agriturismo folks and the big brains up at the University to find either a cure or at least a way to stop this plague. For now, the trees stand, but for how much longer? Thank you.

You can read a New York Times article here,
an article from the Daily Mail here.

So, friends, there you have it. It hurts my heart and I cannot believe I am so late in coming to hear of this. If I hear more I will update you, and if you know any more than I do about this please, please, share with us, OK? Until next time, then…



  1. This is beautiful writing about a horrible story. Thank you, Rachel!

  2. What is the name of the ‘ bug’? Norma

    Sent from my iPhone


    • According to the Times article in the link above, “…one million olive trees in the peninsula, known as the Salento, are infected with the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa” and “The spittlebugs will start flying this month and have served as a primary vector of the outbreak, chewing on the leaves of infected trees and then carrying the bacterium to other, healthy trees, like an unseen wildfire.” Horrible and frustrating.

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