I feel the annual cycle of apples. There’s the exuberance of bud-break, the celebration of spring blossoms, the randomness of this year’s pests, and the anxiousness of rainfall, drought and untimely frosts. How badly did the deer attack last year and how severe will the coming winter be?
I thought I should a find a picture to express this, something to represent the cycles of the apple. And this is what showed up…
Ho hum. An apple was a fruit before it was an industrial deity. Sometimes branding pisses me off. A pub in the mountains of western Massachusetts cannot be called Berkshire Beer Works because Boston Beer Works owns the ‘Beer Works’ moniker (after all, that privilege cost them $100 Gs when they were earlier sued by Boston Beer Company for being named ‘Boston Beer’ something). The beers of the Boston Beer Company aren’t even brewed in Boston! The Beer Scribe, Andy Crouch, describes all this in his handy reference The Good Beer Guide to New England. I guess being a lawyer and a beer nerd enlightens one to this aspect of the business – breweries suing one another. War, not peace, seems human nature. Surely I’m rambling.
Times like this make me appreciate the little things in life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the fact that my Apple computers don’t suffer from downy mildew, attacks by Japanese beetles or deer, or that they work well even in the middle of a drought. I do. I do recognize that. My point being that apples (the carbon-based ones) are pernicious spawn of a complex, temperamental environment. Then again, so are the silicon ones. It comes down to how much we wish to “push” to make things happen.
My pear tree in Nebraska, diminutive thing that it is, produced some beauties this year.
My apple trees in Vermont didn’t fair so well. Heavily browsed by deer and denuded by Japanese beetles, the poor darlings are sending out new leaves in early October. I hope they can put away a little stored energy to make it through the winter. It was also a very dry summer here. That didn’t help. As the old saying goes, “Apples like to have their feet wet.” Oh yes, and the late frost that wiped out most of the blossoms.
As I was expressing my dismay with my struggling orchard, a friend simply said, “Consider it a work in progress.” I like that. It takes off the pressure of trying too hard to make something natural conform to my expectations. I’m not deluded in this. To have an orchard is to prune and graft and fence and fertilize. One necessarily tries to modify the natural order. The balance is in the degree to which you do that.
I try not to take ownership of the universe. It is what it is, and that thing that the universe is, I accept as something I don’t understand. Some people do the that with acts of faith, some by being unconscious. Me, I try not to answer cosmic questions. I define those as pop-quiz questions for which there is no grader to tell me right, wrong, or partial credit.
My paltry effort to care-take, water, fertilize, prune, fence, harvest, patrol, defend, champion, culture, talk to and generally enjoy is just that, a whisper in the winds of the age. Growing apples, for me at least, for my few pedigreed trees and those wild stallions that Dave and I try to rescue from the dark shadows of the meadow’s edge, these are all ultimately beyond our ‘control.’
We can love and caress them, shear them, lighten their load, carve off their rot and suckers… but, as the overused saying goes, at the end of the day, they are apples and we are men. And we cannot make something else conform to an unreasonable reality. So we count the good things that happen and we learn life’s lesson from the things we cannot alter. Humility is a fine headmaster. Just as ontogeny recapitulates philogeny, my friend and I toil to understand the stratagems of a single plant while nations struggle in wielding their people, economy, and political strategy.
We are the single apple blossom and the one bee to their global strategy and their universal manipulation. It reminds me that as individuals we are like the wild tree just discovered, reaching upward in a clogged up mess of overstory, once the farm of an early Vermont settler, now a tangle of regrowth. Apples, after all, did not originate in the Americas, they were brought here to comfort and restore the famished, mostly by way of hard cider. My cider will not be this year and that is perfectly fine. TPJ