Monday, October 20, 2008

Ginkgo Gatherers

Heralding the arrival of autumn, Canada geese make their way across the skies in V formation. Green leaves turn to gold. The air smells lush with mud and decay. In the city, we catch only glimpses of these seasonal shifts, never quite getting the full effects of fall that people in the country enjoy.

But there is one sign of fall that never fails to come to our streets: the appearance of the Chinese ginkgo gatherers.

photo: charmante's flickr

The seeds of the female trees are a traditional Chinese food, writes Wikipedia, "often served at special occasions such as weddings and the Chinese New Year (as part of the vegetarian dish called Buddha's delight). In Chinese culture, they are believed to have health benefits; some also consider them to have aphrodisiac qualities."

I saw my first ginkgo gatherer of the season on Friday night, an elderly woman stooped over the sidewalk, scooping seeds into a red plastic grocery bag. She was alone. In the past, I've seen them mostly in couples, the man shaking the branches of the tree with a long hook, the woman grabbing the fallen seeds off the street--a welcome service to those repelled by the malodorous mushy seeds that slick the pavement.

I've never seen young people gathering seeds, and I assume this tradition is a vanishing one that will fade with the passing of the elder generation.

photo: rumble pie's flickr

Despite their stink, Ginkgos are one of my favorite trees. In a few weeks, their yellow leaves will carpet the sidewalks. Not only beautiful, unique, and very old, they are hardy survivors that do well in a harsh urban environment.

Writes Wikipedia, "Extreme examples of the Ginkgo's tenacity may be seen in Hiroshima, Japan, where four trees growing between 1–2 km from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. While almost all other plants (and animals) in the area were destroyed, the ginkgos, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again. The trees are alive to this day."

Inspiration for the battered urban survivors among us all.


ArtBlog said...

I remember seeing people gathering ginkgo fruits when I was a kid (haven't personally seen it for a while). I remember wondering what the hell they could possibly be planning to do with these horrible smelling fruits.

They fall on the ground, people mush them into the pavement and the whole area around the tree smells absolutely horrid. My father and I were always in agreement that the ginkgoes were a menace

Anonymous said...

growing up in Park Slope we had those trees and boy DO they stink--nice looking trees though-

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention that they are thought to have changed little since prehistoric times, in other words dinosaurs and Sara Palins Great Grandmother grazed on the fruit too!

Anonymous said...

I love gingko seeds. They taste awesome and are reminiscent of gummi bears. That being said, they supposedly contain a toxin that can be dangerous in large amounts, so be careful!