I drove home on my lunch break today and saw something that amazed me. It’s important to note that it was my lunch hour; 12:00 noon. In other words: it was broad daylight.
A few blocks ahead of me was a pickup truck with a little ladder on the side and a large rubber hose mounted in the back. It was apparent to me that this was a working truck, just passing through the neighborhood.
I watched as this truck drove past a house with two good sized orange trees in the front yard. Then I saw the truck stop, back up, and cough out a driver who wasted no time jogging over to the tree where he proceeded to shake the lower branches.
I watched him shake it and shake it and though I was dismayed by his actions, I was thrilled when none of the oranges fell. Who does he think he is that he can just pull over and steal fruit from someone? As I passed him I slowed down enough that I hoped he would see me give him my most disapproving look and a wag of the finger. It’s not my house, it’s not my tree, and it doesn’t hurt me any but come on! My neighborhood is not perfect, but we can’t allow people to go about scrumping our fruit. This is where I draw the line!
Of course, I can’t think thoughts like these and put them to paper without simultaneously thinking that I am becoming a grumpy codger who should be embarrassed for his lack of "damn the man" attitude and general live-and-let-liveness.
So, to justify my feelings, I decided to find out if this is one of those things that’s just my problem and something I need to forget about, or do others feel the same way I do? Tangent Alert: this is the same thinking process I went through when the new neighbors started parking in front of my house. Turns out THAT is a hot button topic, but I'm proud to say that I have been dealing with that annoyance much better lately.
I wish I could say that the first place I thought to look for guidance was the bible. But it wasn’t. Come on now, folks! Google knows all! But Google led me to the bible anyway. In the 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy, a book written about 2500 years ago, it actually deals with this very issue. (So much for being a timely, modern blog post!) The last two verses of the chapter say "When you enter your neighbor's vineyard, you can eat all of the grapes you want. But don't put any of them in your basket. When you enter your neighbor's field, you can pick heads of grain. But don't cut down his standing grain.”
It’s the food world’s version of turning the other cheek so long as they don’t go about beating you senseless. Many of the people I found online ultimately come to a similar conclusion. There's a right way and a wrong way to "steal" fruit.
Still, doesn’t taking fruit without asking first feel like stealing and isn’t there something else in the bible about not doing that? Without getting too deep into a discussion on the biblical idea of being a "neighbor", doesn’t it seem like there is a difference between some random guy stopping his truck and taking your oranges and the neighbor kid two doors down who picks up an orange that has fallen to the ground?
I've distilled what I believe are some of the points that right-thinking people can agree upon:
1. If a tree hangs over public property, such as a sidewalk, fruit in easy reaching distance is fair game.
2. If the fruit has fallen to the ground, it is fair game.
3. If a person walks onto your private property, climbs a fence, or damages your tree in any way, that is just wrong.
4. If a person takes more than a few fruits, that is just greed and not the good kind that Gordon Gecko talks about.
5. It's perfectly acceptable to booby trap your tree with fake hornet's nests, motion-detector water guns, and barbed wire.
Of course, the way the world works these days, you're probably asking for a lawsuit if the would-be thief injures himself on your property. Maybe it's best to keep your fruit trees planted in the backyard or keep your harvest expectations low.