Roadkill + Paw Paws - A Love Story


Roadkill + Paw Paws - A Love Story

  • Rachel Brownlee

    As a freelance writer with a background in horticulture and sustainable agriculture, Rachel's intrest in food has, over time, become her primary artistic medium. An advocate of exploring the freedoms...

It will be months of anticipation until the honeydew-hued paw paw skins tarnish yielding a scoopable, juicy flesh, this all hinging on the pollinators having a frisky spring.

Enjoying the fruit in September begins as early as March or April here in WNC. Unlike other early bloomers such as wild cherry and black locust, the sent of the paw paw flower is relatively foul. For the paw paw blossom, its funk attracts a specific type of lover, one with specific tastes, like the carrion fly. Yes, the same individuals who cannot help themselves from the intoxicating smell of road kill are the same to have the hots for the humble paw paw flower, with little competition.
The two paw paw trees at my place are finally mature and bearing fruit within the last couple of years, but not substantially.
To secure adequate pollination, growers can pollinate themselves, with a horsehair paintbrush and plenty of patience. But the timing has to be right, since the early green, tight blossoms start out female then become male as they mature and turn dark red.
This brings me to this guy:

This raccoon didn't have a good winter, and somehow ended up near the garden early this spring. I got excited about keeping the skull so I buried it and marked the spot. Impatience got the best of me, as usual, and I dug it up a little prematurely. And it was gross. Really gross. So I put it in the open air to "dry out." Then the flies came, and came in droves. I was bummed because I was looking forward to bleaching the skull and maybe painting its teeth gold and placing it with my other natural treasures to look upon, but this was a ways off.
Then in the middle of the night it hit me, why wasn't I putting those flies to good use? The raccoon skull yet again escaped a moment to rest in peace, and was gingerly hung in the budding branches of the paw paw tree.

I wrote my dear friend Dana (fellow lover of the paw paw)  about how strange it was to take me so long to put two and two together on this one, wanting a good year for the paw paws while simultaneously unable to let go of this special but totally disgusting raccoon head. Her reply was: "Beautiful portrait. The raccoon skull midwifing the new life of the paw paws". And there you have it. The delicacies of pollonation, of death and life and life and death, and how they all are part of the same thread. Somewhere in this cycle, I will eat a paw paw, be nourished and remember the raccoon and its fetish-freak flying friends who made it a good year.