Thursday, November 3, 2011
Yesterday, when I went for my walk, I took a trash bag with me, specifically to collect candy wrappers, as on the days following Halloween, this form of litter is particularly prominent. I do not put myself in the category of a gleaner in this sense, as I am not collecting for reuse but for appropriate disposal. Nonetheless, two women saw me pick something up, and one said, "You're picking up leaves. Why?" Which prompted me to explain, and them to exclaim, and they were visiting from New York, touring the Frank Lloyd Wright homes and so forth. I gave them some tips on where to eat and what to see in my town and in Chicago, and we parted ways.
Now we come to the gleaning part of the story, and eventually to the cultural diversity. In my town, we have many ginko trees. I'm not going to get into a big research project about ginkos, but I do see from Wikipedia that they are an ancient form (around at the time of the dinosaurs), and the oldest ones are in Asia--China, Korea, and Japan. It does have an unusual and beautiful leaf.
Ginko trees come in male and female varieties. And in the fall, the female variety produces what the experts call a seed but what to me looks like a fruit.
The odor of the mashed glop on the sidewalk is intensely musky, but that does not quite capture it. Some people say "stinko ginko." I wish I were better at describing odors, and right now, I wish I were better at describing that odor.
About a month ago, my neighbor who has a large ginko tree on her side lawn told me that every fall, an Asian man knocks on her door and asks if he can collect the dropped ginko seeds. Of course, she always says yes because she is happy to have them gone before they all get smashed on her sidewalk and tracked into her house on people's shoe bottoms, perfuming her life.
"What does he want them for?" I asked.
"I don't know," she said. "They make some kind of food from it."
Some blog reader will now tell me that they've known about this for years, and where have I been all my life, but that was the first I'd heard of it. Oh, I know that I could in one instant google to find out precisely what kind of food someone would make from those astonishingly fragrant seeds, and how they would go about it, and what fragrances would be wafting through the house as they did, and what the end result would be. But I'll just leave that task to someone else.
In the meantime, twice since my neighbor told me about this (but never before that), while I was out walking, I saw an Asian woman (the same one twice), stooped down near a ginko tree, a small paper bag beside her, picking carefully through the grass and leaves, gleaning ginko seeds.