Surrounding our new home in the mid-coast of ME, when we moved here in 2005, was a jungle of neglect. Overgrown with junipers thirty feet in diameter, blackberry brambles 7 feet tall and tangled blankets of bittersweet vines bringing wild cherry trees to their demise.
Standing seemingly apart from this impenetrable chaos was a venerable old apple tree that stood on one side of the driveway that leads to our home, which sits back from the road.
On the other side of the driveway already blanketed with aggressive bittersweet vines was another mature but not elderly apple tree. Both had been neglected along with everything else on the property during the decade or more that the house had been rented out. Priorities within the house the first few years kept us too occupied to give much serious care to the grounds.
But that old venerable apple tree caught the attention of my son, Brian, who has a soft spot in his heart for old apple trees, like the one he played in as a child. He offered to prune it. I was delighted with his offer, since he has a special ‘touch’ with the plant beings .
His enthusiasm in pruning the old tree was expansive. As he himself noted, he may have sent it into something of a shock as he cleared away not only dead wood but enough branches so that a bird could easily fly through the tree, an old measure of a well pruned fruit tree.
He transformed it into a life-sized bonsai of beautiful form and presence. I was inspired to go to the garden center and get the appropriate fertilizer to feed it with. The old grandmother tree sent out an abundance of new growth the following year. But neither it nor the still neglected, grown daughter across the driveway produced any fruit that second year.
Last spring, Brian pruned the other apple tree, creating another beautiful living sculpture in our yard. But my medical adventures last year occupied my energy, so that I did not follow his pruning with fertilizer for that tree.
Nonetheless last year both trees produced a bumper crop of apples. The apples on the old grandmother tree were large and tasty, either fresh or baked, and relatively free of worms or blight. The abundance of apples on the tree that I had not fertilized, were puny, covered with blight and infested with worms.
My attention gravitated to the old tree and her large, abundant apples. My 18-month-old granddaughter Theona and I had great fun picking up the ‘falls’, gathering them into baskets mine, large and her’s, small.
I even found an extendable apple-picking tool at the local farm and garden center. With this apple picker, after Peter adapted it in his Yankee ingenuity style, I could reach even the highest apples while still standing on the earth.
While delighting in this windfall of abundance from the old mother tree, I would glance occasionally across the driveway at the other tree. I felt regret over my neglect of the younger tree. I promised it and myself that I would clear away all those rotten apples into the compost, before snowfall, to minimize the growth of parasites and to fertilize it the following spring.
I did pick up all the bad apples around grandma apple tree that fall. But I never got around to clearing the other tree of its many rotten apples both on the ground and many still hanging from its branches.
Each time I glanced toward it as the snows began to fall, I felt a pang of regret, of failure to care for it properly.
Early one January morning during the recent thaw, I looked out the window and caught sight of a robin in flight. Following his flight path, I saw him land in the ‘other’ apple tree with all the rotten apples still hanging from it.
Then I noticed the tree was full of birds. There were even more birds covering the bare ground that had emerged after the few days of thaw had melted the couple of feet of snow we had accumulated.
So many birds! I suddenly realized they were all Robins! There were at least 25 of them. They were all eating away on those apples I hadn’t cleared away! I had never seen so many Robins in one place ever in my life, very well in the middle of winter in Maine!
Suddenly what I have been seeing a ‘my’ failure to care for the tree, became part of a much larger plan of the family of Life. Caring for life became much bigger than my small agenda and viewpoint.
The perfection of the Mother Planet’s way of weaving everything together is beyond what I can fathom with my small perspective.
What I had seen as neglect on my part had provided for this gregarious gathering of feasting Robins. The sight of them opened up a larger sense of the life of that beautiful apple tree.
In that moment my life was once again relieved of its egocentric burden, as it so often is in the presence of the miraculous of Nature. My heart opened in Joy over these feasting Robins.
© 2008 by Maryanna Bock