An apple in autumn
The apple tree in my backyard oversaw my work, digging my first garden over 20 years ago. We bought the house in Terrace for three reasons: there were mature fruit trees, a wired shed, a yard to dig in and, oh yes—we can sleep in that little house.
The apple tree didn’t know I insisted the possession date be moved up from June 1 to just before Victoria Day so I could plant on the day prairie folk plant.
I have observed that the apple tree waits patiently every spring for the cherry tree to blossom, then leaf out: only then will it leaf out and then blossom. I mowed around it with my first lawn mower: a narrow and light manual-twirling thing, quiet as some bees. It healed nicely from the small bumps I delivered to its lower trunk as I accidentally rammed it.
At first, we pruned it badly—too late or not enough or too much—and it forgave us.
The apple tree stoically allowed our stray cat’s kitten to be taught how to climb it with her sharp little claws. Mother cat demonstrates: run fast, then up! Kitten follows. Good! Run fast, then up! Try it again.
The apple tree considerately provides shade for people who cut grass and cats and babies, light shade in spring, then a cooler, deeper shade as it gets hotter. One fabulous day, I lay on my back in the shade of the tree, dangling my chubby six-month old above me and sang till he smiled, “Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me,” like my dad had sung to me.
Now the apple tree tolerates our old cat climbing up and hanging out in its branches like a leopard. It tolerates her jumping from its branches to the tarp over the barbeque and back again. It does not allow ravens to sit in its branches and caw; only the cherry puts up with that. The apple tree invites small birds only and cats and tent caterpillars.
We have learned from our apple tree that tent caterpillars are no big deal. At first we attacked the caterpillars like invaders: we burned them alive, we cut off whole branches and we yipped like banshees while doing it. One infestation year, we decided to do nothing: to wait and to watch. The caterpillars tented, they ate some leaves, they crawled around and then they were gone. They had done less damage to the tree than we had. I don’t know if we are younger or older than the apple tree, but it is certainly wiser.
The tree produces apples every year—some years hardly any, some years just right. That apple tree kindly produced way too many apples the autumn my husband was unemployed. He happily spent many hours picking and juicing apples. He cheerfully went to the shed to create bigger and better industrial-sized juicer machines. Apple trees and wives agree: if there is an unemployed husband about the place, even just for a month or so, it is better if he is whistling and spending time in the shed and the backyard doing productive work.
The apple tree knows how to deal with cuts and scratches and bumps and chewed leaves, years that are too wet or too dry or too cold. And the apples themselves contain this knowledge. Every fall, the Transparents are ready to give one to the teacher on the first day of school. An apple in autumn is sweet crunchy wisdom.