It is the most Californian and thus
the most American of fruits. Coastal
Indians called it the winter pear, pear of the ocean
or of the Western Sea. Put its pit in a glass of
water and it does twine westward, the stem lusting
for the sun, following it around the house in the
course of the long Pacific afternoon.
Settlers on the wagon trains were astonished at
its mystic smoothness. But it also had a surface of
gritty nubbins, a stubble that made it easy to grab.
Heart-shaped, tenacious as a sunflower, it too
was a tough, immodest flora-emblem of God's
promise. It told them of the golden time they
Richard Wirick's fiction, essays and journalism have appeared in Fiction, Quarterly West,
Northwest Review, Playboy, Another Chicago Magazine, Indiana Review and elsewhere. He
is completing a collection of short stories, Fables of Rescue, and is co-founder and editor of
the journal Transformation. His new book, One Hundred Siberian Postcards grew out of his
assignments in Ukraine and Siberia in 2003-5, and his adoption of a Siberian daughter. He
practises law in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and three children.
Cutting it open produced something even richer, stranger: a greenish meat that could
be hard as a board or smooth as butter when the vessel was ripe. The Mexicans
smashed it up into guacamole. Could there have ever been a more adaptable New
World culinary invention? It could be spread on anything or dipped into with impatient
fingers. A sort of nutritionally correct ice cream; a guiltless first course of dessert.
(There is a forbiddenness about it, a toy-like luxuriance. My daughter has a sweet
tooth but with a tang of lemon guacamole is like candy to her. She rat-holes her Jolly
Ranchers and hard tack, but in the blonde hair I brush back from her face as she
sleeps there are streaks of it sometimes, strange clots of yellow and green.)
"A" is the fruit of informality and relaxation. You can't be underdressed. No one would
have written the "You-Say-Tomato" song about it. To be plausibly served it needs air
and open space and laughter and chatter. Woe to the stiff-suiters and strait jackets
of avocado: theirs is not the kingdom of heaven.
Which is to say it has a built-in sense of humour about itself, like the land it comes
from. A little more evolution and it will profess self-consciousness. It is the fruit that
most approximates to dudeness. It could get away with wearing a thong.
It has an affinity with opposites, or as a Californian would say, it goes with anything.
There is a Czech vodka bar on the bluffs of Santa Monica that serves an avocado
martini. Talk about the varieties of religious experience.
I once hear (I swear) Gary Snyder, that hippest and most Western of poets, read a
poem about the avocado. It was called "Avocado." This was nearly thirty years ago
but I remember the very first lines. "The Dharma," he said, "is like an avocado." The
more you peel back the more is there. The more you take away the more you see.
That was the idea, at least, though I'm not certain I have the ending right. Although I
had only been in California a day or two, a precious undergraduate newly arrived from
the Midwest, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I had never seen one in my
life, but I could picture the thing.
I have never doubted that the Garden of Eden was in California. Or the Garden of
Earthly Delights. (Is there a difference?) Avocados have to have hung heavy in both,
what with their testicular, mammorial suppleness. Something like a giant half of one
lies split open in one panel of Bosch's triptych, pouring out maggoty gos of the wicked
and blessed, the satiated and hungry, the drowned and the saved.
Which is why I imagine their tiny trees holding the turf together in heaven's meadows,
the pastures of Elysium, the fields of Wherever. Most writers drape flowers in their
imagined places of death, the air of it plastered with a fragrance thick as rub-ons from
a leafed through fashion magazine. But give me the odorless, the heavy and green.
Given me the knotty little maracas of pure possibility.
Slather me, bury me if you really want to, in the paste of the Zapotecs. It is God's
sweet cold pudding, the very butter of Paradise. The place where the sun sets is
where we all -- all earth's creatures - are constantly moving, and this fruit is the thing
in which its lights and its warmth are most lovingly held and are waiting.