Can you imagine an encounter with living creatures that have survived through a thousand years, possibly more? On a visit to the nurseries of Valero e Hijos in Elx (Elche), not far from the airport at Alacant (Alicante), a region teeming with nurseries, we met quite a few. These magnificent millenarian trees strike anyone gazing at them with pure reverence. Venerable olives such as these –- their age could well be over a thousand — would have seen so much of Spanish history. They might have been present at the time the Romans were conquering the Iberian peninsula, if not brought by them in the first place. Having discharged their duty, some soldiers might have been granted land to settle in and tend such trees as these in their villa gardens on retirement. After the Romans, the Visigoths, followed by five waves of Berber rule for 800 years. (The Berbers had no difficulty crossing over from North Africa –- only a few kilometers of sea divide it and the southwest tip of Spain at Gibraltar.)
To the third wave of Berber rule, based in Cordoba, is attributed a golden age of learning in sciences –- mathematics, astronomy, medicine, among others — and arts, architecture, and attendant crafts. And it is inevitable that food as well would attract the focus of that period’s enquiring minds. Not only the breeding of edible plants and bringing in of more desirable cultivars, foremost among them the olive, but their enhanced productivity through irrigation. Perhaps some court gourmet may have been inspired to use olive oil and the preserved fruits from any one of these trees (quite likely) in an innovative way, supporting the development of sophisticated tastes and a corresponding cuisine. (See the contributions of one such 9th century polymath, a court musician named Ziryab, in horticulture, cuisine, manners, and fashion, among other spheres.)
How many harvests of their fruits have these trees experienced? How many jars of oil and vats of pickles have they produced? And from the prunings of their limbs, how many fires kindled and meals cooked? How many generations of families — children, parents, grandparents — nourished, sustained? And visitors too, perhaps important personages among them, how many delighted and entertained with unforgettable feasting? And what of these trees’ welcoming shade in the heat of summer, and the play of silver and green on their leaves, and the rustle of the wind through them, and the texture of their trunks –- how many admirers have beheld these trees, I wonder? How many life celebrations, joyful and sad alike –- birth and death, coming of age and weddings — have these trees been witness to? Countless!
The words ‘thank you’ cannot adequately convey gratitude for immeasurable grace and near-infinite bounty over thousands of years. In Japan, trees as old as these are girded with shimenawa –- belts crafted from rice straw with tassels of folded paper signifying sacred status –- and regarded as shinboku, sacred trees.
Valero e Hijos (besides olives, they stock mature-sized citrus, figs, loquats, pomegranates, and other Mediterranean trees)
Avinguda de L’Altet
Elx, Alacant 03290