Guarding Olive Trees

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

I haven’t been there,
but I’ve gone there
along the stream
of your words…
…haunting and yet warm,
all at once…

You told me that
grandmothers were guarding
ancient olive trees.

…guarding 500 years of
patient, spiral growth
down into the earth
and up toward the sun.

You told me that
YOUR grandmother
would not leave her village
to live with the family in the city.
She did not want to leave the olive trees.
She knew what would happen.


Yes, even today
THEY are ripping

And the grandmothers —
they know the true cost
of losing one of these
dear friends.


The word winds itself around
twisted olive tree branches and
around your sun-kissed skin…


In this word lies
the heart of Palestine:
preserving lebni,
mixed with za’atar,
rubbed on dry elbows
and hard-working hands,
and on the skin
of a newborn child.

Tell me that
there are still bonfires
in the bellies
of ancient olive tree groves,
keeping the stories

Tell me that the grandmothers
still guard olive trees
and the heart and soul of Palestine.

To learn more, please read this article.

December 2009 — Dedicated to my friend’s Danna and Sahar in Ramallah…  Zeitoun means olive in Arabic.  Lebni is mostly made around March, when milk is flowing again.  Basically, it is a sour cream that is formed into balls and preserved in olive oil.  Za’atar is a spice mixture of sumac, oregano-thyme like plant, roasted sesame seeds, and some sea salt.  It is customary to have this on flatbread and can also flavor about any dish…

2 thoughts on “Guarding Olive Trees

  1. >Thanks Danna… I was thinking of you and Sahar and this is what came up for me… I keep on thinking of the story you told me about your grandmother staying out in the country to protect her olive trees from Zionist Israelis. I feel your grandmother is making a powerful statement about the well-being of the land and the Palestinian relationship with the olive tree. As always, thank you for sharing your stories with me.

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