The Heartbeat of Our Country

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Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
~Martin Luther

 

 

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…the heart of this country does not beat in Washington, DC, nor does its soul lie in a seat of power, nor does its destiny lie in which party occupies which section of government.

No, those things all lie with… people like you and me, people who get up and go to work and love their tiny plot of Earth and whose hands are rough and hardened by loving and giving.
~Billy Coffey from “The Heart of this Land”

 

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You and I voted today, because we have the freedom and privilege to do so.

Yet our destiny does not lie with the counting of the ballots nor the results.

We have responsibility to our God, each other and our good earth.  One human election cannot surpass our need to keep planting apple trees to ensure the future is well fed.

 

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God Was Here: My Soul to Thrive

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But I am done with apple-picking now. 
Essence of winter sleep is on the night, 
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off. 
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight 
I got from looking through a pane of glass 
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough 
And held against the world of hoary grass. 
It melted, and I let it fall and break. 
But I was well 
Upon my way to sleep before it fell, 
And I could tell 
What form my dreaming was about to take. 
For I have had too much 
Of apple-picking: I am overtired 
Of the great harvest I myself desired. 
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, 
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall. 
For all 
That struck the earth, 
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble, 
Went surely to the cider-apple heap 
As of no worth. 
One can see what will trouble 
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is. 
Were he not gone, 
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his 
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on, 
Or just some human sleep.
~Robert Frost from “After Apple-Picking”
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This fall I picked 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.

 

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1. The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

2. His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

3. For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

4. I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
~Elizabeth Poston From Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs,
compiled by Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784

 

 

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The Hollowness of the Season

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The way the trees empty themselves of leaves,
let drop their ponderous fruit,
the way the turtle abandons the sun-warmed log,
the way even the late-blooming aster
succumbs to the power of frost—

this is not a new story.
Still, on this morning, the hollowness
of the season startles, filling
the rooms of your house, filling the world
with impossible light, improbable hope.

And so, what else can you do
but let yourself be broken
and emptied? What else is there
but waiting in the autumn sun?
~Carolyn Locke from The Place We Become

 

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November is the month of windstorms: a few years ago one took down a ninety plus year old orchard tree on our farm.

The old Spitzenberg tree, the favorite variety of Thomas Jefferson, had been failing over the previous ten years. It was rotting centrally with holes that housed squirrels and their treasure trove of filbert nuts, and bearing fruit that was startling red and sweet but diminishingly small and scabbed, dropping to the ground beneath like so many drops of blood. Blue jays loved the branches and quarreled relentlessly with the squirrels over prime real estate and mountain view property in the crown of the tree.

No more. As it was eased on to its side in the night storm, swept up in the torrent of air and rain, it went quite peacefully, gracefully with nary a broken branch as they reached out to touch the ground, almost gratefully, breaking neatly at the base of its trunk, not even disturbing the sod. The roots remain covered underground, still clinging to rocky soil, with no where to pump to any longer. The old tree had simply bled out.

Somehow we needed to dispose of the remains. As my husband made several chain saw cuts through the trunk to make pieces easily movable, the extent of the astonishing hole in this old tree became visible. It was suffering from an extreme equivalent of human osteoporosis with a brittle skeleton that somehow had lasted through innumerable windstorms until this week, even while still bearing apples, still trying its best to be fruitful.

When it fell, the trunk oriented itself so it provided a view right through to the barnyard down the hill, telescoping what the tree had surveyed for so many years of its life. Clearly this had been a holey trunk for some years; within the cavity at the base were piles of different size rocks stashed there by the Lawrence children two generations ago and more recently our Gibson children. There was also a large tarnished spoon, lost decades ago into the dark center of the apple tree and now retrieved at its death. At some point in the last quarter century, a Gibson child playing a farm version of frisbee golf must have flung a bucket lid at the hole in the tree, and it disappeared into the gap and settled at the bottom.

All this, like a treasure trove of history, was just waiting for the time when the tree would give up its secrets at its death. There were no gold or silver coins, no notes to the future like a glass bottle put out to sea. This well hidden time capsule held simply rocks and spoon and lid.

I realized as I stared into the gulf of that empty trunk that I’m hollow too, more hollow than I care to admit. Like so many of us, stuff is hidden deep inside that we’d just as soon not have discovered. Our outside scaffolding braces against the buffeting by the winds and storms of life, as we cling to this mortal soil. It is clear we’d be much stronger if we were wholly solid throughout, filled with something stronger even than our outsides.

But we tend to get filled up with a lot of nothing, or even worse than nothing, a lot of garbage. This is stuff that weakens us, furthers the rot, shortens our fruitful life, doing nothing to make us more whole and holy.

I’m looking more critically now at what fills my empty spots since staring down the barrel of that old apple tree trunk. May the hollow be hallowed.

 

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The Cathedral to Memory

 

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I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
 
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
 
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
 
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
 
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they’re so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
 
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.
 
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where
 
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
~Catherine Essinger “Summer Apples”  from What I Know About Innocence

 

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A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. 
~Welsh Proverb

 

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It is at late summer and harvest time when I most clearly remember my mother – she is standing for hours at the kitchen sink peeling yellow transparent apples, readying them for sauce, and always a pie.

The apples were only part of her daily work:  she canned quarts and quarts of green beans, peeled the peaches and pears for canning, sauced the plums, pickled the cucumbers, jammed the strawberries and raspberries, syruped the blackberries, froze the blueberries, cut the kernels off the corn cobs, baked up the zucchini into breads and cakes, dried the filberts, dug and stored the potatoes,  dehydrated the tomatoes.

Over the years I’ve stood by the sink and the stove and have done what my mother used to do, usually not as well but with the same mission of preserving what I can for another day.  We have been fed from our summer labors.

I know well these trees and vines from which the fruit grows.  I plant the seeds which somehow know to produce when tended and nurtured.  I stand and peel and wash and boil and stir as this is what generations of my family’s women did before me.

May it ever be.

 

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Mystery Made Visible

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This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass glowing, this young spring.
The secret hallowing is come,
Regenerate sudden incarnation,
Mystery made visible
In growth, yet subtly veiled in all,
Ununderstandable in grass,
In flowers, and in the human heart,
This lyric mortal loveliness,
The earth breathing, and the sun…

…The apple takes the seafoam’s light,
And the evergreen tree is densely bright.
April, April, when will he
Be gaunt, be old, who is so young?
This fevers me, this sun on green,
On grass lowing, this young spring.

~Richard Eberhart  from “This fevers me”

 

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It is a mystery
how the dead,
so very dead
can live again.

Ground frozen
mere weeks ago
now leaps lush and vibrant.
Branches snapped off dry
in midwinter storm and ice
now burst with bloom.

A new leaf glows
in evening light,
pulsing illumination.

Beyond understanding
Beyond imagining
Beyond each fevered breath
that could be,
but isn’t,
our last.

 

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Smelling Their Sweetness

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A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.
~Robert Frost “Unharvested”

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Our trees are heavy-laden — the dropping fruit thuds to the ground with such finality,  it wakes me in the night and reminds me how far I’ve fallen.

“Fall” is just that: nothing will remain as it was. Autumn replays our desire for an apple that smelled so sweet, tempted with shiny sheen and lured with such color that we fell hard and fast for just one taste.

We ignored the worm hole.

And ended up in a hole ourselves, unharvested, hoping one day for the sweetness to return.

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Spring’s Ephemeral Cathedral

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You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me…but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.
~Dana Giola “The Apple Orchard”

 

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
―  J.R.R. Tolkien

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In despairing moments, we recollect and hold on to memories most precious to us, recalling what makes each moment, indeed life itself,  special and worthwhile.

It can be something so seemingly simple that becomes the most cherished and retrievable–the aroma of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the splash of colors in a carefully tended garden spot, the cooing of mourning doves as light begins to dawn, the velvety soft of a newborn foal’s fur, the embrace of welcoming arms, the wish that we had reached out and grasped something forever lost to us due to our hesitation in the moment.

As we approach the memories brought fresh by upcoming Mother’s, Father’s and Memorial Days,  it is those simple things we recall and treasure, pass on in stories, and never leave buried in the ground.  The legacy of these memories lives and thrives in the next and then the next generation, to be told and retold, not to rest, eventually to be forgotten, under a marker.

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?  Do you remember?

 

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