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After Apple Picking: Earth Day +1

Apr 30th, 2010 by Mary | 0

I got a kick out of an email I got from a friend of mine early this week, adjuring everyone to plant a tree in honor of Earth Day. I wrote back immediately and told her I was celebrating Earth Year on our new piece of paradise. You see, for the first time in my life, I have more land than my farthest imagination. Ever since the record-breaking snows melted from our three acres, I have been out every day almost without exception digging, planting, going to bed with pictures of newly discovered plants dancing in my head. Not even counting the numerous shrubs and vines I have planted, I have also planted almond, hazelnut, black walnut, butternut, heartnut, pecan, apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry, nectarine, apricot, persimmon, all edible. Then there are the two flowering crabapples, flowering pear, redbud.

Then there are those on order: chestnut, hickory, paw paw, mulberry, dogwood, tree wisteria, sugar maple, chinquapin. Then my “wish list,” more dogwood, vine maple, aspen, quince, hawthorne. The list keeps growing as I slowly “colonize” this wild and spectacularly beautiful acreage. It is nothing like what Lewis and Clark did as they blazed a trail to the Pacific northwest, or David Douglas on his horticultural explorations for the London Horticultural Society, but this is my very own land to explore, admire, cultivate, harvest.

It is a strange feeling having so much space. I have always admired those who have been able to “make do” with less, to eke out a living with limited resources. Yet now I stand in awe daily of the abundance this part of my life has brought me and I am still working out its ramifications. On the one hand, there is a “warning” about excess, perhaps most beautifully captured by America’s most iconic poet, Robert Frost, in his poem, “After Apple Picking,” as he reflects on his day of harvesting apples as he tries to fall asleep:

“But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

On the other side is one of my favorite quotes by Mae West: “Too much of a good thing is just enough.”

Right now my orchard is about two feet, the freshly planted seedlings just beginning to send out tentative leaves, so my own apple (and peach and plum, nectarine, pear, cherry, apricot, mulberry, almond, hazelnut, walnut, butternut, heartnut, chinquapin, chestnut, hickory) harvesting (not counting blueberries, kiwi, grapes, raspberries, blackberries, loganberries, jostaberry, tayberry, gooseberry, currant, elderberry, cranberry, winterberry, lingonberry, paw paw, mulberry, quince . . . ) is at least a couple of years away.

So I stand squarely in the middle of two belief systems — the one handed on to me by my parents and their parents before them urging moderation, preservation; the other by Mae West claiming abundance, no, profligacy, is to be desired and embraced.

On the whole, I think I need to side with Mae West. I can always invite others to share in the abundant harvest that as yet simply resides in my dreams and imagination. A wild turkey already makes his home here, living off the land and the dry corn I put out. Birds will make their nests on the understory bushes I will plant and fill their crops with their berries. Butterflies and bees will cross-pollinate the blooms as they fill themselves with nectar. Friends, family, guests, will reach out and take their breakfast from the land. The extra produce will go to food banks, the senior center. Who knows? Maybe I will set up a fruit stand at the bottom of the driveway and flag down passersby to thrust the “excess” harvest through their car windows.

So, at least for now, before the actual harvest, where there will be real sweat, a real ache in the arch of my foot from the ladder step, I will go to sleep, not with “sugarplums dancing in my head,” but with visions of the myriad berries, vines, shrubs and trees I have been inviting, one by one, into my earthly reality. And I still think that “Too much of a good thing is just enough.”

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