The native bees awake to spring sunshine and the terroir of our blooming manzanita bush. Terroir (pronounced tare-wah) is the taste and flavor of the environment captured within food or drink. I’m considering how I might best sample the elixir of our own yard in Bend, Oregon, starting with watching our wild inhabitants feasting there.
Edging closer to the smooth maroon trunk and shiny green leaves of the manzanita, I see dozens of tiny bees whir from pink coral-shaped blossoms in ephemeral wafts of iridescent green, yellow and black stripes, and translucent wings. Several California tortoiseshell butterflies flare serrated wings the color of flames with dashing black spots and framed in bark browns.
I’m envious of the bees and butterflies sipping nectar with their straw-like tongues, until I remember that I, too, may sample the terroir of our home yard.
Last summer, I picked golden plums from our gnarled and battered-by-snow fruit tree. The fruits were only possible, because bees pollinated the dawn pink blossoms. The bees flew to our yard in droves, attracted by our profusion of wildflowers. I made jam from the plums, with as little sugar as possible and chunks of plums.
In every golden bite, I taste the terroir of our own home, from the sandy and reddish lava soils where the plum tree roots wrestle to draw water and nutrients into the trunk, to the taste of the sunshine above our home transformed by photosynthesizing leaves. I detect the ripening fruit in long hot, smoky days of August wildfires and the quenching rains.
Surely, our local bees imprint each juicy mouthful of jam with every flower and blossom they’ve visited—right back to the manzanita of April. Maybe I can taste the essence of the robins, Townsend’s solitaires, juncos, pine siskins, Wilson’s warblers, yellow warblers, and Anna’s hummingbirds that landed in the plum tree.
To test my taste bud exuberance, I give a heaping spoonful of plum jam to Wes and wait for his pronouncement: “hints of Summer and notes of Pepper.” (Those are the names of our two black Labradors that add their sometimes questionable flavors to our front yard).
We laugh and spread a layer of jam on toast. Still, I do believe our golden plums taste like home, and that the more we welcome wild nature, the greater the sensory experience.
As spring unfolds, our home yard awakens to beauty and yes, to the terroir of greening Idaho fescue, unfurling lupines, sprouting sunflowers, and the flourish of native bees, butterflies, and courting birds. To taste terroir is to taste the renewal and sparkle of it all.