At any rate, when it is decided to relieve the tree of its consignment of green and darkish oval fruits, a tarpaulin sheet will be spread underneath it, and then you either swat the branches with sticks to hasten the fall, or climb on a step-ladder and pick at the olives one by one and fling them downward. Whether to use sticks or human hands is determined by the availability of manpower and the nature of the olives themselves (e.g. are they heavy and ripe and ready to drop at the tinniest flick?) When the tree finally parts company with its crop, the tarp will be sifted through to weed out the twigs and other undesirable objects. The load of olives will then be funneled into sacks or pails, and then it will either be sold raw or fermented for breakfast or processed into oil.
I never fully figured out why an olive branch has become a symbol of peace. It has indeed been a symbol of peace and glory for a long, long time (since the ancient Greek). But it is not clear to me why or how it’d become so. I suspect it’s because olive trees live long, and they age well. They age beautifully and gracefully. In fact, ‘old age’ of an olive tree as perceived by mortal humans is never its actual state of aging. The olive tree that my grandfather had planted when he was young feels old to me, but it might just be in its prime years. You'd think a tree that had witnessed WWII and survived the severe freeze of '72 and a partial fire in '82 would look old and withered. But no, that's not the case. That's not the case at all.
The best time to harvest olive is between sunrise and mid-day. Something that has to do with photosynthesis and other chemical ingredients that make the slow circular trip between the leaves, the roots and the fruits. And, obviously, you need good light to do the work since autumn skies are overcast and it gets dark early.
An owner of a land that has two to three hundred olive trees can never handle the harvest by himself and his family alone. So he or she will have to hire pickers from the nearest town. Or maybe from a far-away town. Whoever is cheaper, faster and more hard-working. Men and women of various ages and marital statuses will answer the call. And since it’s not always possible to commute back to where they come from, the pickers will occasionally stay in temporary tents or shacks or whatever available within the vicinity of the land.
For many young men and women, the harvest season is the chance to see and be seen. There’s something novel and fresh about the harvest, about the regenerative power of nature and the freshness of the crop. There’s anxiety and anticipation. Always a surprise lurking around the corner: a tree could yield more than it’s expected; the girl whom you had met the last season has now grown into a beautiful young woman. The harvest season is an opportunity for networking and a source of stories for generations to come. No wonder that many folk songs are rife with references to it and its festivities.
Who owns an olive tree? Or let us put the question this way: who is morally entitled to claim an olive tree? The man who owns the land or the man who grooms and prunes it? The man who plant the sapling or the man who applies the pesticides? The mule that twos the water tank to irrigate it, or the family that picks its fruits? The question is not even framed in economic terms, it's just as simple as this: who has the most intimate relationship with an olive tree?
The answer is: nobody.
Or everybody, equally.
Syria has the fifth largest number of olive trees worldwide. Syria is currently bleeding, but it will survive. It will survive and live to 'age' gracefully and gloriously. Syria is not owned by one man; under its branches of peace and glory, there is a place for everybody.