by Krista Schwimmer
On my walk to work, I sometimes take a short cut through Valencia Court. Like many of the walk through streets in Venice, Valencia Court has character. Once, I saw a beautiful, yellow parasol leaning against someone’s back steps. Frequently, I spy a friendly phoebe bird, hanging around the blue and black trash cans, swooping now and then for insects. I chuckle whenever I see the manikin staring out from the corner home’s upper window.
A few years ago, I noticed a street sign for Valencia Court that was oddly placed. It was right off Market, near the corner of Horizon, hidden in a thicket of branches. This sign marked not a court or street; but a house with a fence. Behind this fence, I noticed for the first time, pomegranates, peeking through the weave of branches. One lay at my feet, broken open. Why, I thought, had I not noticed this tree before? And was there any significance in the fact that I was noticing it at that time in my life?
I am familiar with the pomegranate as a delightful, tasty fruit, as well as a deep, and ancient symbol. Because of its numerous seeds, ranging from 200 to 1400 in one piece, the pomegranate represents plenty. Its name derives from Medieval Latin, “seeded apple.”i Some scholars believe this “seeded apple” was the same apple Eve tempted Adam with in the Garden of Eden.ii
The myth, however, that I think of when I see a pomegranate is the Greek myth of Persephone and her mother, Demeter. In one version, the young and beautiful Persephone wanders with her companions into the Nysian Fields.iii There, she is drawn to the hundred bloomed narcissus. As she drinks in the intoxicating smell of this flower, Pluto bursts from the Underworld, grabs the innocent Persephone, and takes her to his lair to make her his queen and bride. What a guy!
When Mama Demeter cannot find her daughter, she flies into a rage. Being the bringer of crops, she withholds her abundance from the earth. In the end, however, Demeter gets her daughter back — but for only part of the year. While in the Underworld, Pluto tricks Persephone into eating pomegranate seeds. Because of this, she must continue to spend half of her time in the Underworld each year. Seeing the broken pomegranate on the sidewalk that day reminded me of the early days of my quest for wholeness. As a young woman, I had also experienced a sudden, tragic descent when my brother, David, was lost at sea while kayaking. His body was never recovered. When I later read Persephone’s story, as well as some of the other, more ancient descent stories, I found they helped me to navigate the pain. With time, I learned to balance my world consciously between the living and the dead.
Although the pomegranate tree north of Horizon and Market is somewhat hidden, it is still my favorite one. I love looking up through the weave of its branches and seeing one, two, even three pomegranates hanging too far to reach. I love how in the fall, the light streams through the thicket, highlighting the dangling fruit. I love, too, how I first found the fruit, split open on the sidewalk. For Christians, the open pomegranate represents the Resurrection,iv a concept that I like to puzzle over, despite the fact that I consider myself more of a mix between a wandering Yogini and a solitary witch.
Just this week, I was walking on Market, between Riviera and Cabrillo Avenues, when I noticed how lovely another pomegranate tree looked. Like my first friend, this pomegranate stands not far from the other side of Valencia Court. It is a smaller, younger version, fully visible and well-groomed. I was aware of this tree’s existence; but I had not truly introduced myself to its spirit. This time, I took in the ripening fruit — right on time, as the Northern Hemisphere season begins in September and runs through February.
As I am a woman who knows the earth is a wise teacher, I think about these two pomegranate trees, (marking either side of Valencia Court), and the times I first connected to each of them. The first tree I met is older, half hidden. She once tossed her ripened fruit on the sidewalk before me. The second tree is younger, fully visible. Her fruit is still ripening.
In these past two years, I consider the way my life has changed. I realize I am emerging more consciously into the world. And yet, the spirit of the younger pomegranate tree tells me I am still in a period of becoming. Although the one strange sign for Valencia Court is now gone, my first friend continues to call to me from behind the fence. She reminds me to retreat to my older self whenever I need to replenish.
In the meantime, I plan to continue my wanders through Venice, acquiring friends from the various kingdoms of nature. I hope you, too, take the time to acquaint yourself with the splendor on your own block. I am sure that you, too, will be delighted by your discoveries.
ii “On the Pomegranate” by Hildegard Schneider, pg. 117
iii This version found in detail in “Asteroid Goddesses” by Demeter George
iv “On the Pomegranate” by Hildegard Schneider, pg. 120