The Old Apple Orchard
by Andrea Caluori of Ashfield, MA
originally published at www.LittleMouseFarm.com
In honor of my Aunt Mary. A lover of animals and plants who never left our hometown of The Bronx and could only dream of rural living. My life in the country, making cheese, caring for animals and tapping sugar maples would have been a dream come true for her. Everyday, I live my life in her memory.
“The years shall come and pass, but we
Shall hear no longer, where we lie,
the summer’s song, the autumn’s sigh,
in the boughs of the apple tree.”
William Cullen Bryant, The Planting of the Apple-Tree
These days, you realize you’re starting to live the life of a herdswoman. You walk out into a field, tall grasses, the fawn-like ears peeking up amidst the weeds – little noises letting you know it’s time to stop for a quick bite or snack before journeying forward. It’s the height of summer, and the old orchard’s apple trees are starting to show fruit. The doelings discovered apple leaves for the first time yesterday, and now they beg for you to lower a bough so they can munch the tree’s sweet leaves.
Late afternoon has drifted in along with a slightly cool breeze that sweetens the air. A summer’s haze has descended so that everything appears a worn, well-loved photograph of a favorite place from long ago. And you remember a Bryant poem:
“What plant we in this apple tree?”
“Buds, which the breath of summer days
Shall lengthen into leafy sprays…
“What plant we?” The story between animal and human? Farming companions for centuries sharing similar hillsides and fields, relinquishing the day’s work into a momentary respite of fragrant summer air?
The tall grasses rustle – Timothy – you have learned, along with Vetch, and Red Clover. They love the Timothy grass though, and luckily this field has not been mowed. Each time one of the girls looks up, a long blade of Timothy sticks out like spaghetti. And you can’t help but laugh at the silliness that complements the overwhelming beauty that is right now. The wind gently caresses the apple trees’ leaves, moving through the branches, layered with songs of birds in the surrounding bushes. What bird you don’t know, and frankly you don’t care… not knowing doesn’t take away from your deep appreciation. It’s late July, and the day is better than perfect; it’s almost perfect.
“What plant we in this apple tree?
Boughs where the thrush, with crimson breast,
Shall haunt and sing and hide her nest.
We plant, upon the sunny lea,
A shadow for the noontide hour
A shelter from the summer shower…”
You have decided that this is your favorite spot here: the old orchard contained in 3200 acres of land, over 2,000 feet in elevation, full of spruce woods. People once lived here and you can see the traces they left behind. Former stonewalls, forgotten steps, how did the farmers that planted these trees live? What were their days like pruning the trees and harvesting the fruit? Would they have ever guessed that over 100 years later a young woman and her two goats would wander back to their once beloved orchard on a day like today? Chosen for the trees’ shade, their delicious leaves, and the view of abandoned fields? Although the tall grasses and trunks of the trees show the wear of time, there is something in this meadow that moves beyond the world of hours… so much has been planted in these apple trees.
Your thoughts move towards first kisses and the last glass of wine, shared joys and labors… walks through future orchards and nearby mountains. The orchard’s dreaminess pulls you away and takes you under; the young golden apples become alluring, filled with promises against the sound of content, full mouths faintly chewing in the background. What will you plant in your apple tree? You look up at its branches– there is so much left to do – the swelled breaths of summer days, the bounty of fall harvest, future pies and shared meals, winter walks and spring blossoms, laughter and delicate hands – how many stories are written against the bark of trees?
And strangely, this is all brief – just a few minutes before you gather yourself again. Time to head back. And so you call to your little herd. Right now there are only two, and you can imagine how fondly you’ll remember this beginning. Reluctantly they turn around, leaving behind the shade of the apple trees – stepping out into the rosy gold evening sun. The abandoned orchard, the Bryant poem – “what plant we in this apple tree?,” you continue to say to yourself over and over again until someday you reach home.