I’m a great believer in ‘make the best of things’, ‘no point in grumbling’ etc. but today I absolutely feel I must moan and wail at the present epidemic of social distancing, at the drought of hugs and kisses and chats with children and grandchildren and dear old friends. Skype and Zoom meetings are better than nothing, but I long for natural conversations.
In desperation I go and talk to the old apple tree in the garden. It’s a very old friend: when we moved here it was already well grown and fruitful and it’s provided Bramley type apples for innumerable puddings for more than 50 years. Children and grandchildren have climbed it and hung swings from its rough old branches marked with many pruning scars. The tree is covered by delicate pink blossoms which are falling like confetti, but it’s also showing signs of advanced age. It’s leaning over and there are woodworm holes and rot in the trunk and branches.
Both of us will fall over and return to the ground before too long, but while we wait it feels good to sit in her shade. I like to think of Newton finding enlightenment under an apple tree but maybe I should also remember that an apple tree got Eve into a lot of trouble. I decide to start the conversation with a Haiku.
as your blossoms fall dark seeds take shape in secret shielded by pale flesh
The tree drops a few petals. I decide to try again, maybe something more cosmic would be better.
I bite your sharp fruit tasting gravity’s pizzazz and the sun’s gusto
The tree shakes its leaves slightly in the breeze. The leaves are only just unfurling but some have already been chewed at the edges by unseen insects. Bees are busy sucking nectar, trails of ants hurry up and down towards the top of one of the branches, I can’t see why. In autumn birds come and feast on the fallen fruit; blackbirds and thrushes love them and sometimes I see redwings that fly in from Scandinavia and in the last few years a couple of seagulls appear regularly and stab the apples rather awkwardly with their large beaks. Slugs leave evidence of their munching meanderings on the fruit rotting in the grass; the slugs and the worms that live among the network of tree roots are food for frogs, hedgehogs and foxes. I begin to see the tree as more like a metropolis than an individual, a network of comings and goings, nourishing and lethal, a harvest of success and failure, birth and death, a mesh of interactions in the natural world that link to science, art and myth.
I sit under the tree and try to weave some of the apple tree’s threads into an interesting pattern of words, it’s much more fun than wasting time grumbling at the limitations of my life which, like apple blossom, clings to the tree for such a short time. So, dear old tree, here’s a hug and a poem for you and all apple trees, wherever they grow.
APPLE TREE ABC Apples in the Art class, in lessons for Beginners - take your pencils and try to Catch the light on their convexities the Dimples, the silky skin that so delighted Eve - desire slithered into her mind - taste the Forbidden fruit. Name the varieties - Gala, Worcester, Coxes Pippins floating in Halloween; make enchantments of spiralling peel. Inhale the sharp sweetness. Drip through muslin Jelly coloured with brambles. Ferment the juice it Kicks the brain. Rest under the shade of the Leaves in July, the blossoms have dropped and Maggots are eating their way to the core. Newton understood there was gravity in Orchards, origins of homely apple Pies and puddings, motherly food fit for Queens and Kings. Sometimes in winter before Rot sets in, redwings strip the flesh from the skin. Snow White is a story of deadly apples, Though in truth, earth sends its succulence through the Umbilical stalks. Keep the doctor away with Vitamin C, eat an apple a day. Wasps suck the juice that rises through Xylem and phloem. It all shuts down at the Year’s end, but as the sun reaches its Zenith again, petals give way to green spheres. Anne Bryan