Jul 18

On Resilience: Lessons from an Apple Tree


images          BirdNest

Dear friends,

The morning I woke to the news of the tragedy in Nice on Bastille Day. I couldn’t even read the paper. The headlines the last weeks have left me dispirited, overwhelmed, as violence seems as commonplace as my morning cup of tea. Instead, I walked down to water our old apple tree that last week we thought was gone, to sit under its leafy green canopy where miraculously, transparent apples are still ripening.

Two weeks ago, we walked down to the orchard and found the tree toppled over, the weight of its abundance more than its roots could support after a week of rain. We’d been meaning to prune it, but kept putting it off until we had more time, could consult an expert, yadda, yadda yadda. You know the excuses. When we moved into this house almost ten years ago, we were looking forward to learning to tend our small orchard, but the full-throttle nature of our lives has meant that mostly, we’ve learned to look forward to the bountiful harvest of apples for baking, slicing them up to freeze for pies and applesauce since they don’t keep well.

Of course we tried to right the tree, enlisting the help of our neighbor, Jeromy, with slings, pulleys, and come-a-longs, but it only swiveled. Fearing we were damaging the roots, we stopped. I called the Jefferson County extension agent. They sent helpful handouts and suggested pruning the canopy but waiting to move it until after the apples ripened. We had a plan.

I made evening visits to the apple tree to water and sit with it, where a Douglas squirrel chattered away, lecturing me, I imagined, and a thrush called from a tall cedar. When we trimmed it, we’d found a nest hidden in its branches, though any birds had long since fledged, thankfully. Still, it was obviously a home for many species and they were all trying to adapt to its new configuration. Raccoons and deer were obviously visiting at night, delighted to find apples within easy reach.

Finally, I couldn’t wait any longer. I called the TreeGuys, who’d been out to clear a storm-downed maple in the fall. The owner, Drew, came out to check it out.   Yea, we can get it up, he promised, eyeing the tall cedars that circled the orchard.   He had a team of guys, They’d all worked the woods, logging. No problem. He walked over to the tree, pointed out how the leaves were still turning to the sun. That’s a good sign, he said. She’ll make it. They’d be here 9 am Monday morning.

Sure enough, they pulled up our driveway with a bark chipper and set to work, rigging lines to the tall cedars to support the tree, clipping branches to lighten the canopy. Finally, two of them crouched beneath the trunk and pushed it to an upright position as the other two tightened the lines that supported it. I held my breath, turned away so they couldn’t see the tears streaming down my face, let out a long sigh. They fed the branches into the chipper, piled the chips around the base of the tree, along with all the windfall apples—and posed for a few photos. Then, with a roar of diesel, they were gone.

after                       TreeGuys

I still go down to water the apple tree each evening and have become increasingly grateful for this quiet time during these last turbulent weeks. So little I can do about the violence, but I can tend my own garden, pay attention, and listen to the apple tree. In being reminded so graphically that yes, I DO need to prune the apple tree, I’m reminded of all the clutter I let accumulate on my desk, my inbox, my mind. I see more clearly now the value of clearing out the old to make way for new growth. I’m grateful for the apple tree’s forbearance, for carrying on despite my benign neglect, for reminding me what it means to be resilient. May we all find reminders of resilience in our own lives; sometimes they’re right in our own backyards.

This week, allow yourself a brief news fast. No newspaper, no radio, no Facebook feeds. It doesn’t need to be long—maybe just a day—but enough to find a quiet place where you can notice what you may have been neglecting in your outer landscape. Then write about that: what lessons does it have for you?   How are you reminded of resilience? How can you nurture resilience within yourself to weather whatever lies ahead?

As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, “Restoring balance to ourselves, we can begin the work of restoring balance to the Earth. There is no difference between concern for the planet and concern for ourselves and our own well-being. There is no difference between healing the planet and healing ourselves.”

Yours, happily under the apple tree,