Through the night the apples outside my window one by one let go their branches and drop to the lawn. I can’t see, but hear the stem-snap, the plummet through leaves, then the final thump against the ground.
Sometimes two at once, or one right after another. During long moments of silence I wait and wonder about the bruised bodies, the terror of diving through air, and think I’ll go tomorrow to find the newly fallen, but they all look alike lying there dewsoaked, disappearing before me.
I lie beneath my window listening to the sound of apples dropping in
the yard, a syncopated code I long to know, which continues even as I sleep, and dream I know
the meaning of what I hear, each dull thud of unseen apple-
body, the earth falling to earth
once and forever, over and over. ~ Li-Young Lee,”Falling: The Code” from Rose
Right outside our bedroom window stand two very ancient Gravenstein apple trees. Despite their age, they continue to produce apples with unparalleled bright and sweet flavor. These aren’t winter “keepers” so must be used quickly, preferably picked before they end up falling to their fate. Still, I rarely get that done before they are let go.
Over the past several weeks, before I fall asleep, I have listened to the trees releasing their hold on their apples, one by one by one. I make a mental note to try to get to the base of the trees first thing in the morning to pick up the “still warm” apple bodies strewn about in the grass underneath, in order to start a pot of applesauce simmering on the stove. Some of the Gravensteins are far too bruised or wormy to bother with, but with a careful eye, I can find the most recent windfalls that are worth peeling and chopping up.
I realize I miss picking up many apples that eventually melt back into the earth from which they originally came, feeding the roots of these old old trees. I think about my own current wobbliness on a branch where I budded, bloomed, and have fruited and wonder when the time will come when I too will be let loose to fall back to dust.
Or maybe, just maybe, I will be picked up and washed off to become part of a truly heavenly pie.
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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 Gioia “The Apple Orchard”
Love, we are in God’s hand. How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead; So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for? ~Robert Browning from Andrea Del Sarto
As I walk down the blooming aisleways of Spring’s ephemeral cathedral, it doesn’t help to regret what could have been – if only – long ago I had reached out to hold what remained free of my grasp. Perhaps it is forever lost to me…
I am overwhelmed by all the potential surrounding me – the trees are literally bursting with blossom and leaf, an undulating green carpeting covering every rolling hill, exuberant new life bouncing and bucking in the pastures.
I wonder, at this age and stage of my life, whatever potential is left to me?
If I give up my dreams if I don’t try to hold on to what seems out of reach if I don’t remember what it feels like to want everything from life, I would wilt and wither without forming fruit.
Ah Love – I am in God’s Hand. Or what’s a heaven for?
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There’s a single tree at the fence line… When I cross the unfertile pasture strewn with rocks and the holes of gophers, badgers, coyotes, and the rattlesnake den (a thousand killed in a decade because they don’t mix well with dogs and children) in an hour’s walking and reach the tree, I find it oppressive. Likely it’s as old as I am, withstanding its isolation, all gnarled and twisted from its battle with weather. I sit against it until we merge, and when I return home in the cold, windy twilight I feel I’ve been gone for years. ~Jim Harrison, from “Fence Line Tree” from Saving Daylight.
Our fence line apple tree is considerably older than I am, and not a far walk away from the house. I visit it nearly every day, to be reminded that there is a wonder in gnarled limbs and blatant asymmetry.
What strikes me is the consistent presence of this tree though so much changes around it: the seasons, the birds that nest in it, the animals that graze under it and the ever-changing palette above and beyond.
This tree stands bent and misshapen, though not nearly as fruitful as in its younger years, yet still a constant in my life and in generations to come.
May I be that constant for those around me, to be steady when all around me changes in swirls and storms. Perhaps being bent and wrinkled and knobby can also be beautiful.
The kitchen is sweet with the smell of apples, big yellow pie apples, light in the hand, their skins freckled, the stems knobby and thick with bark, as if the tree could not bear to let the apple go. Baskets of apples circle the back door, fill the porch, cover the kitchen table.
My mother and my grandmother are running the apple brigade. My mother, always better with machines, is standing at the apple peeler; my grandmother, more at home with a paring knife, faces her across the breadboard. My mother takes an apple in her hand,
She pushes it neatly onto the sharp prong and turns the handle that turns the apple that swivels the blade pressed tight against the apple’s side and peels the skin away in long curling strips that twist and fall to a bucket on the floor. The apples, coming off the peeler,
Are winding staircases, little accordions, slinky toys, jack-in-the-box fruit, until my grandmother’s paring knife goes slicing through the rings and they become apple pies, apple cakes, apple crisp. Soon they will be married to butter and live with cinnamon and sugar, happily ever after. ~Joyce Sutphen, “Apple Season” from Coming Back to the Body.
I liked how the starry blue lid of that saucepan lifted and puffed, then settled back on a thin hotpad of steam, and the way her kitchen filled with the warm, wet breath of apples, as if all the apples were talking at once, as if they’d come cold and sour from chores in the orchard, and were trying to shoulder in close to the fire. She was too busy to put in her two cents’ worth talking to apples. Squeezing her dentures with wrinkly lips, she had to jingle and stack the bright brass coins of the lids and thoughtfully count out the red rubber rings, then hold each jar, to see if it was clean, to a window that looked out through her back yard into Iowa. And with every third or fourth jar she wiped steam from her glasses, using the hem of her apron, printed with tiny red sailboats that dipped along with leaf-green banners snapping, under puffs of pale applesauce clouds scented with cinnamon and cloves, the only boats under sail for at least two thousand miles. ~Ted Kooser “Applesauce”
Politics is applesauce. ~Will Rogers
Yesterday was 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 Pippins, a few Kings, and some 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 boxes. Sadly, some apples were beyond hope; they lay rotting, half consumed by hornets, slugs, deer, raccoons and other critters so I let them be.
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.
If I’m feeling really homespun, I marry the sublime with cinnamon and sugar, to create something happily ever after.
So it should be with the fellowship of diverse people and so should it be after a painful political season. We are bruised, wormy, but salvageable. We are far better together than we are separate. And through the process, with perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon and sweetness, we are transformed into something far better than how we began.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. ~Martin Luther
There is big excitement in C block today. On the window sill, in a plastic ice cream cup a little plant is growing. This is all the men want to talk about: how an apple seed germinated in a crack of damp concrete; how they tore open tea bags to collect the leaves, leached them in water, then laid the sprout onto the bed made of Lipton. How this finger of spring dug one delicate root down into the dark fannings and now two small sleeves of green are pushing out from the emerging tip. The men are tipsy with this miracle. Each morning, one by one, they go to the window and check the progress of the struggling plant. All through the day they return to stand over the seedling and whisper. ~Nancy Miller Gomez “Growing Apples”
As a child I was fascinated by the early 1800’s story of John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) who traveled on foot around the eastern 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 planted in such confident faith 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 thirty 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 God has accepted I follow my own appleseed trail, so no matter what may happen in my own life, if I’ve planted a seed that takes root, there will be fruit and hope for the future. The Lord Himself continues to plant seeds and words in the midst of a world going to pieces.
Some day fifty years from now, a kid sitting high up in the branches of an apple tree, contemplating life and its meaning, will have an apple to munch and words to chew.
“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!”
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jesus, Apple of God’s eye, dangling solitaire on leafless tree, bursting red.
As he drops New Eden dawns and once again we Adams choose: God’s first fruit or death. ~Christine F. Nordquist “Eden Inversed”
It has always been a choice no longer forbidden we are invited to first fruit
He offers Himself broken open
so our hearts might burst red with Him
The tree of life my soul hath seen Laden with fruit and always green 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
His beauty doth all things excel By faith I know but ne’er can tell 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.
For happiness I long have sought And pleasure dearly I have bought 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.
I’m weary with my former toil Here I will sit and rest a while I’m weary with my former toil Here I will sit and rest a while Under the shadow I will be Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit does make my soul to thrive It keeps my dying faith alive This fruit does 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.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. ~Martin Luther
…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”
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.
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.
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
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
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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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
A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~Welsh Proverb
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.