“May you find healing.”
“Do you feel that you have healed?”
“Is there healing in that for you?”
“You seem like you are healing.”
I’m hearing these words, all spoken to me over the last few years, as I reach for the apples above my head. Each tree here, bowed and heavy with her apples. Trees that were strategically planted, over a hundred years ago, by humans long gone. Other trees planted by us, young and flexible, with a flush of virgin fruit. They have grown for years with perhaps a blossom here and there, but never fruit. I wonder if they are marvelling at their own, newly awoken superpower. From them, beautiful, rosy orbs to tempt the seed carriers.
I grew up not knowing that there were ‘good apple years’ and ‘no apple years’. There was always a red delicious apple in my paper lunch bag. So ubiquitous, it was no more special than the brown paper it came in. I hated red delicious apples. They tasted like chalky potatoes to me. I traded mine or threw it away without a thought. Some anonymous tree, in some anonymous land, picked by some anonymous person who put that apple on a conveyer belt that waxed and polished it so it was as perfect as the plastic fruit on my friend’s dining room table. It probably tasted the same, too.
These apples, the ones all about me, are not those apples. These apples I have come to know. These trees, I have come to understand. In front of our house, the most magnificent of all. An apple tree so full and robust and heavy with apples that she encircles more than half of our screened in porch. She is the one that scratches along the metal gables of our bedroom on windy nights. She is the one that grows apples, striped light green and pale pinky-red, that grow in clusters like grapes. Tens of thousands of apples and she holds them all. Her trunk is as mighty as an oak. Her limbs stretch far and hold strong. She is our great privacy screen when we sit in our porch early in the morning and I read stories to my husband. She is our co-celebrator when we retire to our little porch with something cold at the end of a sweaty summer day. In her limbs the dramas of battling squirrels and newly minted baby birds taking their first flight. I wonder if she dreams of the Brown Thrashers that pick worms from her skin while she hibernates through our long, cold winters.
There are other apple trees, too. The tree behind our house offers the old fashioned Macintosh. The one ‘before’. Before tomfoolery and storage and transportation and the changing desire for sweet over taste messed around with these trees. These Macs, my favourite of all apples, are perfection. A crunch so hard it snaps. A taste so piquant and sharp it lets loose a million little firecrackers on the tongue. And juice so abundant you have to swallow twice on your first chew. These apples grab you and pull you into the now. There is no way to eat them mindlessly. They will stop you in your tracks. They will make you look at them while you eat. Vacant filling of the maw is impossible when tastebud meets Creation.
There are trees that offer apples you will see on no store shelves. Small green apples with pink polka dots. Ruddy green apples with rust coloured stripes that, I am certain, are the mothers of “Granny Smith” only infinitely more delicious. There are oblong apples and medium sized apples and perfect, dark ruby crabapples. Some are for cider making. Some for fresh eating or storage. Others are perfect for apple butter and other preserves.
For each apple a tree that grew it. For each tree, a different story - a different time in its life. Our young trees are simple. Their bark smooth. Their limbs can bend in great arches under the weight of their fruit. Some, overzealous in their offerings do break. Some splinter. Too ambitious in their growth. They’re full throttle and then they burn themselves out. There is something uncomplicated about a tree like that. I pick her apples with gratitude, but her limbs are sparse. She is lean and open wide. She’s still taking it all in.
There are three old apple trees in amongst the younger ones in the orchard. They have, over the decades, had big limbs cut back or broken off. The chickens dust bathe under the shade of one on hot summer days. We had a cow trough under that tree once, years ago. My husband and our daughter, Mila, used to play chess in that cold, deep well water on sweltering summer days. They would take a kombucha with them. I remember standing by the fence post watching them there, with the tree framing them as they laughed at each other. I remember thinking there was no moment more perfect between a father and his daughter than that one. I never had that with my father and I was overwhelmed by the love between the two of them. I took a picture. I’m so glad I took that picture.
I spent Sunday morning inside the world of our most luscious apple tree - the one I already mentioned, Ms. Bountiful and Bodacious that surrounds an entire corner of our home. I had to separate her limbs to walk into her. I would take one step in and stop to pluck her apples and drop them in my bushel basket. Then, once I had reached every last apple within my grasp, I would take another step in. In less than three steps, I would have my full bushel and start another. There were leaves winding through my hair, encircling my body. Apples dropped on my head as one pluck from me loosened five more from her branches that dropped to the ground. One of our more playful barn cats, Lucy, came to pounce on the dropped fruit. The tree laughed and shook. I could feel her vibration through every leaf that kissed me.
“Life!” She is such a beautiful apple tree. So unencumbered by scarcity. When the tent caterpillars hit a couple of years ago, she was stripped bare of all of her plump little buds. She took what she had, as did all of her apple siblings, and tried again that very same year. It was that or it was entering into winter depleted. A hard winter would be enough to kill her. Her second round of leaflets were puny and shrivelled but they caught enough sunbeams to let her get by. There were no apples that next year or the next. She needed everything she had just to survive.
She is an old tree but she is full. She is exuberant. Life has given her a choice spot to live. Her roots are nourished by nutrients another apple tree, further down the corner of the yard, cannot reach. That tree had to grow tall and thin to live at all within the dense trees around her. I need a ladder just to pluck the few apples she is able to muster. But it’s the tree in our backyard, the one that the big, picture window in our living room frames that calls to my heart now.
She’s a quiet, unassuming tree, maybe even a bit ugly now. A craggy apple tree. Over the decades, people have cut off limbs that died when she was no longer able to supply her blood to their tips. We, too, have taken out our chain saw and cut back lifeless limbs that threatened to splinter what’s left of her. It’s only served to exaggerate her odd shape. One long limb branching from a trunk full of scars. There was life there, behind those scars, once. Now just a dark mark. She throws up vertical branches every year, an attempt to increase her leaves to absorb the life of the sun, but it’s not enough. There are too few leaves. There are too few branches and limbs. Life is dwindling for her. I look at her in the winter from the warmth of my sofa in front of a chugging wood stove and wonder what she is doing below that snow encrusted, skeletal form.
She is everything Ms. Bountiful and Bodacious is not. A ladder under her two main branches and a little shake and her tiny apples all succumb to the earth. Her apples are small, tiny even. But they are layered and sweet and tart and zesty and they remind you that an apple is not an apple and that nature is a marvel. In her apples, the genius and wild imagination of Creation. There is more to her than it seems.
In this time, when life wanes, who would blame this ancient tree if she simply decided to stop offering apples? If she simply went off into retirement, having given over a hundred years of apples to thousands of creatures, wouldn’t we all agree in the fairness of it all? But she continues to blossom year after year. She continues to grow her wondrous little apples. The generations of deer that come here every fall, the shy mothers showing their fawns all of the choice apple trees on the land just as their mothers showed them, always go to her first. Maybe she knows that. Maybe she does it for them.
She will die completely soon. She will die with the last of her apples dangling from her limbs. The last of her energy dedicated to life beyond her own. She will give it all away, every last drop of her. She teaches me and I am a witness to her fidelity. There is joy and abundance in the perfection of her apple tree counterparts, but she is wisdom and selfless devotion. She is perpetual. She, like all of the other trees, like all of life that once lived and served, will one day be absorbed fully back into the fold. The trunk that remains will crumble and feed the universes that live amongst her roots.
The new mulberry trees brought the Cedar Waxwings here for the very first time last year. Six of them came and landed in her branches to wait for those mulberries to hit the peak of perfection. A new type of bird with new song and a different grasp on her skin. She would have noticed that. Life that depends on her, even when she can no longer offer the plump and the shiny. The deer still come. The goldfinches still land. The human still picks her fruit. And she still endures. With everything she has, until the last drop of life courses through her and she is nothing more than a skeleton made of wood.
They ask me, now, if I “have found healing”. They ask me if what I do “brings healing”. People want there to be closure. People want us to be okay. The truth is there is no end. There is no finish line. Healing isn’t found at all. All of life is the opening and closing of wounds and love and peace and pain. It doesn’t end. Not here, anyway. I don’t look for healing. I don’t want courses or gurus or books to fix me. I want old apple trees anointed by the touch of God. Trees that wrap themselves around me and laugh at their abundance and trees that gasp the last of their life-force into a lovely little apple, round and perfect, so that I may bring into my body that which is theirs. Resurrection. Divinity. An allegiance to the sacred. Now and forever. Amen.