The Diversity of an Orchard

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I’ve come to give you fruit from out my orchard,
Of wide report.
I have trees there that bear me many apples.
Of every sort:

Clear, streaked; red and russet; green and golden;
Sour and sweet.
This apple’s from a tree yet unbeholden,
Where two kinds meet, –

So that this side is red without a dapple,
And this side’s hue
Is clear and snowy. It’s a lovely apple.
It is for you.

Within are five black pips as big as peas,
As you will find,
Potent to breed you five great apple trees
Of varying kind:

To breed you wood for fire, leaves for shade,
Apples for sauce.
Oh, this is a good apple for a maid,
It is a cross,

Fine on the finer, so the flesh is tight,
And grained like silk.
Sweet Burning gave the red side, and the white
Is Meadow Milk.

Eat it, and you will taste more than the fruit:
The blossom, too,
The sun, the air, the darkness at the root,
The rain, the dew,

The earth we came to, and the time we flee,
The fire and the breast.
I claim the white part, maiden, that’s for me.
You take the rest.

 ~Louise Bogan “The Crossed Apple”
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Today will be applesauce-making day on our farm. The number of windfall apples lying on the ground is exponentially increasing, so I could put off the task no longer. The apple trees in our orchard are primarily antique varieties rarely grown any longer. I selected Spitzenburgs, a favorite apple of Thomas Jefferson, a Baldwin or two, some Newton Pippins, a few Kings, but mostly I picked Dutch Mignons, a russet apple undistinguished in appearance, not at all pretty, and easy to pass by for something more showy.

It took no time at all to fill several large buckets. Sadly, some apples were beyond hope; they lay rotting, half consumed by slugs and other critters. Those I left behind.

The task of washing, peeling and coring organic apples is time consuming. They require a fair amount of preparation: the bruised spots must be cut out, as well as the worm holes and tracks. The apples are cut to the core and sliced into the simmering pot to be stirred and slowly cooked down to sauce. Before long, before my eyes, together they become a pale yellow mash, blending their varied flavors together. However the smooth sweetness of this wonderful sauce is owed to the Dutch Mignon. It is a sublime sauce apple despite its humble unassuming appearance. Used alone, it would lack the “stand out” flavors of the other apple varieties, but as it cooks down, it becomes a foundation allowing the other apples to blend their unique qualities.

So it should be with the fellowship of diverse people. We are bruised, wormy, but salvageable. We are far better together than we are separate. And we are transformed into something far better than how we began.

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We Each Took a Pear

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“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

 

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful. 
~Jane Kenyon “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”

 

A moment’s window of perfection is so fleeting
in a life of bruises, blemishes and worm holes.
Wait too long and nectar-smooth flesh
softens to mush and rot.

The unknown rests beneath a blushed veneer:
perhaps immature gritty fruit unripened,
or past-prime browning pulp readily
tossed aside for compost.

Our own sweet salvage from warming humus
depends not on flawless flesh down deep inside
but heaven’s grace dropped into our laps;
a perfect pear falls when ripe, tasting like a selfless gift.
~EPG

 

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“A man watches his pear-tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit. Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree. But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap!”
~ Abraham Lincoln

Plum-Tuckered

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And somehow <she> thrived anyway–the blossom of our family,
like one of those miraculous fruit trees that taps into an invisible vein of nurture
and bears radiant bushels of plums while the trees around it merely go on living.

~Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Dreams

 

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There is a plum tree on our farm that is so plain and unassuming much of the year that I nearly forget that it is there.  It is a bit off by itself away from the other fruit trees; I have to make a point of paying attention to it otherwise it just blends into the background.

Despite not being noticed or having any special care, this tree thrives.  In the spring it is one of the first to bud out into a cloud of white blossoms with a faint sweet scent.  Every summer it is a coin toss whether it will decide to bear fruit or not.  Some years–not at all, not a single plum.  Other years, like this one, it is positively glowing with plum harvest– each a golden oval with a pink blush.   These plums are extraordinarily honey flavored and juicy, a pleasure to eat right off the tree if you don’t mind getting past a bitter skin and an even more bitter pit inside.   This is a beauty with a bite — sweet surrounded by bitter.

I think the tree secretly grins when it sees puckering taking place all around it.

This tree is a lot like some people I know: most of the time barely noticeable, hanging on the periphery,  fairly reserved and unobtrusive.  But when roots go deep and the nourishment is substantial,  they bear a bounty of fruit, no doing things half-way.   The feast is plentiful and abundant, the meal glorious despite the hint of sour.  Maybe it is even more glorious because of sweet within bitter.

If “tucker” describes a great down-home meal, then being “plum-tuckered” would be eating our fill of the bitter-sweet.  Even when the bitter in this life is plentiful,  the sweet will always overwhelm and overcome.

 

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Throwing Off the Covers

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Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.
~Billy Collins “Morning”

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This is the best~~
heading with dogs and camera up the hill
on an early spring morning,
with nothing more than the hope
I can bring this magic back to the house
and preserve it long after the foglight evaporates,
the day moves on and distracted by life,
I’ve forgotten all about how
this is the best~~

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On Mine Aëry Nest

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And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,
As still as a brooding dove.
~Percy Bysse Shelley from “The Cloud”
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To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: “I am an evening cloud too.” They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from Stories of God

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From this hill, we can see for miles.  At certain times of morning and evening, it can feel as if we are aloft, closer up to the clouds, seeing the terrain from their vantage point.  There are the snow-covered peaks to the east, the craggy Canadian coastal range to the north, the stretch of river valley to the north west, the Salish Sea to the west and the forest to the south.

Surrounding us is the farmland and the good people who feed this community: the expanse of dairy land and its vast pastures, the corn fields, berry rows and potato mounds, acres of orchard espaliers and local farm-to-market and CSA growers.

The ever-moving, ever-changing immensity of the clouds covers us all.  As those clouds touch, embrace, release, mold and transform, they show us how connection with others is done.  As we county folk pass on the roads during an evening walk, as we are running late to town jobs, as we meet in the store or at church or community events, we too should touch and greet one another, nod and encourage, acknowledge the shared light that comes from beyond us that restores and transforms us.

Most of all, like the clouds, we are too often full to brimming, a shedding of shared tears at how easily this land can be taken away — whether remembering the sad history of people group domination and removal from their ancestral homes, or the ravages of flood or volcanoes, the effects of drought and wildfire, of blight or sickness, or the currentover-regulation of government ensuring no farmer can afford to continue to do what they know best to preserve the land, the habitat and their crops.

We weep in recognition, like these clouds, to make ourselves understood and to diminish the distance between us.

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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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Making Scents

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I admit it.  Right this minute, I should be doing our taxes.  We’re down to the last minute and I have all the paperwork stacked on the desk beside me, but I’m not doing it.  It is too miserable a task to even contemplate.  Instead I go outside to capture spring.

The last few mornings, when I have risen just before dawn, I have gone outside to breathe deeply of the scents that hang heavy in the cool moist air.  The perfume from thousands of orchard blossoms on our farm is heady and intoxicating.  There is nothing quite like these two weeks each year when our farm becomes a mass of snow white and pink scented flowers, busy with honey bees and eventually showering petals to the ground as the fruit starts to form.

Unfortunately, I’m allergic to tree pollen.  I breathe deeply and… sneeze and wheeze.  Even the best medicine can’t stop my reaction. So much loveliness causes so much misery.  So I retreat back to the house and look out the window and enjoy the view from afar, dabbing my dripping nose.

Ironically, this is the same time of year our dairy farm neighbors start to empty their manure lagoons and begin to spread their thousands of gallons of liquid manure on the surrounding fields, readying the ground for the hay or corn crop to come later on this summer. That scent hangs heavy in the cool moist air as well, pungent and unforgettable, penetrating even into our clothing so we carry the smell back into the house with us.  Of course I’m not allergic to manure.  After all, it’s only grass and water transformed.  In fact, as nasty a smell as it is, it’s invigorating in a perverse sort of way.  I know where it comes from, I know what its potential is, and I know the crop it yields.  It is, in itself, as treasured as the blossoms that yield fruit on our farm.

Taxes are the manure in our lives.  They are pretty stinky too, just like manure, an inevitable part of our daily existence, yet even more onerous.  However, spread out where needed, those collective taxes fertilize and grow our communities, our schools, our roads, our health care (and a few other things we may wish would not be funded).

So I must get to work spreading numbers across my desktop in the hope they may make sense and yield fruit of their own, sometime, somewhere.

The Cents of Spring.

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