On Mindfulness and Climbing Date Trees: a Lesson from My Father’s Childhood

After months of changes in my life, I’m back to publishing.  I finished fellowship, moved next to a preserve and started birding again, traveled abroad, started a fulfilling and very interesting rheumatology practice, prepared for and took my board exam, and deepened my relationship with a very special woman.  The following is a short anecdote from my father’s childhood along with the lesson I gleaned from it.

My father is an excellent tree-climber. I’m skittish about climbing anything without safety measures in place, but my dad does so without thinking twice.  He once climbed a tall pine tree without a ladder or any other equipment to save a kitten stranded on a branch.

There’s a good explanation for his facility with climbing:  he was raised on a farm in Fasa (near Shiraz, Iran) and climbed date trees during his childhood to harvest their fruits for himself. Many palm species don’t bear edible fruit, but date palms do. A date tree is either male, which produces pollen but not fruit, or female, which produces flowers and then fruit when pollinated. The trees grow very slowly and begin to bear fruit only after many years of growth. Date fruits are initially green. As they ripen, they gradually turn yellow and then brown from the tips stemward. My father especially liked the half-yellow, half-brown fruits when he was a kid; they were most delicious.

He climbed without a rope, but professional climbers used a rope slung around the tree trunk and around their backs. They climbed the tree with their legs, leaning into the rope and flipping it up as they ascended.

Climbing had to be careful because of long, sharp thorns at the base of date palm fronds. The professional climbers cut thorns down as they encountered them, but my dad once rushed up a tree without taking care and a thorn pierced his temple.  (Date palm thorns are strong and apparently sharp-enough to pierce truck tires.)  Blood shot out of the wound and down his face in time with his heartbeat as he scrambled back down the tree. His uncle, who was nearby, pressed a stone against his head.  After a long time, the bleeding eventually stopped.  (He’s lucky his uncle was around because it sounds like he lacerated an artery.)

As one who strives for meta-awareness, the lesson I take away from his experience is to try to remain strategic about and somewhat detached from goals instead of pursuing them carelessly and hastily.

More about date palms:  they give rise to offshoots, or “pups,” around their trunks, which need to be carefully transplanted away from the mother tree if they are to continue growing. My father’s cousin recently sent him a photo of a tall date palm that was a tiny pup when my father planted it more than fifty years ago.

When date palms become too old–some live longer than a century–or too tall and dangerous, they are felled. This is no easy matter because the trees are well-anchored by their roots.


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