They stumble through the air, barely aloft and as noisy as my neighbor’s ancient car. Their favorite flowers are lilikoi, that palm-sized blossom mainlanders call passionfruit.
Of all the pollinators in my yard, they are the loudest and busiest. I hear them soon after the sun clears the horizon, and watch them all day, covered thickly in pollen, landing heavily on blossoms dwarfed by their inch-long bodies.
A quick look through the jungle reveals their homes: pinky-sized burrows in dead wood are the tiny apartments of busy single mothers. Mom digs perfectly round holes that could be the product of an electric drill, with tiny bedrooms off the sides for her babies. Then she goes out for a little grownup time with a drifting male so she can fill those rooms.
The menfolk are gorgeous golden creatures, not nearly as industrious or focused as the ladies. From all I’ve read, they can’t even sting. I hardly ever see them doing any work, because they only gather enough food for their own needs. They live alone, and just loiter where the ladies might find them.
Each egg from our lonely lady gets its own little room. It is carefully placed on a tiny bed of pollen and nectar so Baby has breakfast when it hatches, and enough food to survive through larval stage to transformation. When Baby emerges from the bedroom, Mom is ready with more food until the little bee can make its own way in the world.
If you blunder across one of these homes, watch out; Mom is a fierce guard. While it takes a lot to make them sting, they fly right in your face and can scare you into falling on your butt.
They come in as many kinds as there are separate trees. The ones at the end of my street are small and round, with big seeds and pebbly skins, nearly black when ripe. Half a lot away are the treasures: big as a baby’s head, tiny seeds, and meaty, buttery flesh. Right next to them are thin-skinned ones with watery flesh and refreshing flavor. Over at my daughter’s house, their monstrous tree bears true pear-shaped fruit, promising in shape, but shunned for their huge pits and stringy flesh. The best are the ones around the corner a block from my house: about a pound apiece, they turn deep burgundy when ripe, and their flesh is nearly neon green.
My favorite avocados? Free ones, closely followed by the 3/$1 variety and reluctantly by the 50-centers.
I was telling this to my friend Oshi, who joined me about 10 miles into my usual avocado-foraging bike ride. She laughed. She has a tree of her own in her yard. I was pulling off the road to pick a couple from a tree on an empty stretch of the jungle highway we were riding. “Need some?”, I asked. No; no need.
That’s the question, too. Do you need them? Will you use them?
There’s an etiquette to gathering the wild avocado.
If a tree is in someone’s yard or an obviously-tended area, don’t touch it; you need to ask first.
Driving to the tree or picking from the tree using a picker is also frowned on. Cars and pickers are cheating.
Best to walk or bike, and to stay in your neighborhood. You should have at least a nodding acquaintance with anyone you see while you gather.
If you’re the squeamish sort that must pick your avos, never take more than two from a tree. One at a time is more polite, unless you have an auntie you need to share with.
If the fruit has fallen, the tree has given it up and it is yours to take. Still, don’t take more than a few unless you know nobody else will come by looking for more. If you find too many, pile them up in an obvious spot for the next person to find.
Remember to stop for a moment and thank the tree. I’m not kidding; I’m not the only person I’ve seen doing this. Crazy-looking, fierce tattooed guys walking by with knives on their belts and fishing poles in hand pause to thank trees they gather from too.
Which ones do I want?
Avocados don’t ripen on the tree, so you won’t be able to judge by squeezing ones on the tree.
You know a tree is ready for you when you see full-size fruit has fallen from it.
If you’re impatient, and you think a tree is getting close to ready, you can pick a big fruit from it. Write the date on the outside, and wait a week. If it comes ripe within that week, the tree is ready; go for it! If not, try wait.
Look for the freshly fallen ones, with clean-looking stem points. As avos sit on the ground, they are tempting for all types of foragers, and you want to be the first to eat yours.
If you’ve done it all just right, your chosen avocados will be ready in a few days.
Now you just need to go out for another bike ride and get some more.