up to their knees in
fog. The fog
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.”
- Denise Levertov, The Breathing
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
As a child I was fascinated by the story of John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed who traveled on foot around the young United States creating nurseries of apple trees. When our family traveled in Ohio and Pennsylvania in the 1960s, we visited places that claimed to have apple trees planted by John Chapman. I marveled at how one little seed had the potential to produce decades of fruit (and hope) for generations of folk.
My two childhood farms had old apple trees–gravensteins and transparent varieties–good for climbing in and always great as scratching branches and shady snoozing spots for the horses and cows. One had a platform fort where I spent hours sitting munching on apple cores, surveying the fields and enjoying watching the animals standing beneath me, relaxed, napping, chewing cud and swatting flies.
When we bought our farm here in Whatcom County over twenty years ago, there were left a few antique variety apple trees of a once vital orchard. They were aging, with bent and broken branches and hollowed trunks, but still continued to produce fruit, great for baking, sauce, cider and winter storage. We’ve lost a few of the old trees over the years to the wind and elements, though now nearly a century old, the survivors keep providing.
It seems I have followed an appleseed trail myself, a journey of knowing, no matter what may happen, if a seed is planted today, there will be fruit and hope for the future.
I’m determined to keep planting seeds and words in the midst of a world going to pieces. It just might mean a kid sitting high up in the branches, contemplating life and its meaning, has an apple to munch on and words to chew on fifty years from now.
“O the Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need-
the sun, the rain, and my appleseeds-
the Lord is good to me!”
(published a year ago in Country Magazine)
I’ve been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?
Perhaps if the giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this gift of sweetness, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and how we receive it makes all the difference.