I LOOKED meditatively at the tree I had just been told was the carob tree, or St.-John's-bread, a familiar tree in southern California, where its sweet, nourishing pods are still used as stock feed. The pods of this tree together with honeycomb from some wild bees' hive composed the fare of John the Baptist.
It was not a large tree, but it had a sturdy look that pleased. Its head was globular and densely foliaged. Its twigs were strong and upstanding. It had none of the lackadaisical grace of the pepper trees with their swaying string-like branches. It was comely rather than beautiful. Its buxom full-leafed maturity suggested strength, patience, cheerfulness, wholesomeness, dependability. I could not imagine birds in a storm harboring in a pepper tree, much as I love that willowy lady. But wind-beaten birds would be sheltered and secure in a carob tree.
Carob trees are well groomed—no unkempt shedding of bark or berries as with eucalyptus and pepper trees. Tidy gardeners are always picking up after those snobs who drop their discarded garments where fancy dictates, selfishly oblivious of the work they cause others. Carob trees are neat and tidy and thoughtful of their surroundings.
Carob leaves are beautiful, partaking of the well-rounded comeliness of the whole tree. Carob leaves are compound leaves, as pepper leaves are, but carob leaves do not have threadlike midribs and weak, pointed leaflets; carob leaves are strong, their leaflets firm, tough, and rounded.
The carob tree made me think of John the Baptist. Jesus might have said to a southern California group: "What went ye out to the arroyo to see? A pepper tree swaying with the wind? A eucalyptus tree shedding its bark to show off its soft, silken inner garments?" The ways of these trees are suggestive of character. The sturdy, dependable appearance of the carob tree suggests the power of John's soul.
The carob reminds me of another Bible character-but not by resemblance. A young scion of nobility, well endowed, had a yen for the glamour world of the Sunset Boulevard "Strip." He dined on cocktails and caviar and thought himself well fed. He perceived not that the only glitter was the reflection of what light still clung about him from his father's house. The only wealth in that country he brought in from his father's treasury-the natives lived off ensnared tourists. Starving, he was reduced to eating-carob pods. "Husks" the natives called them and fed them contemptuously to their swine. But they were sweet to the prodigal's taste; they medicated his diseased body; his beclouded mind cleared; they recalled the heavenly food on his father's table.
I looked up at the dense green dome of the carob tree. Many of the compound leaves did not spread flat, but the leaflets folded together like book pages. I thought, "Leaves of the St.-John's-bread tree-they remind me of leaves of the Bible, the bread of life."