Sunday, September 16, 2012

Conversation with Apple Trees

I attended a writing retreat/workshop at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island this week: “Writing Nature’s Wisdom.” The leader, Christina Baldwin (PeerSpirit), spoke of the three story voices that live in all of us: observational, social dialogue, and mythical. (The latter is third person.) Quite often one or two of the voices fall apart, but rarely do they all leave us at the same time. How we use the remaining voice(s) is what holds us together.

In a departure from my usual strictly observational writing style, the following came out of one of the exercises we did: the mythical voice. Not being seasoned in the whole concept, I think I have actually combined all three voices.

Conversation with Apple Trees

The woman lifts the latch on the simple pole- construction gate and pushes it open. The garden tools hanging on nails in the roofed entry give evidence that the garden is cared for, at least from time to time. A small hand-painted sign identifies the small Apple Tree Garden. The woman steps down into the unkempt orchard and begins around the path that circles off to the right of a large apple tree, her legs brushing aside flowers gone to seed that, in their late-season death throes, she can’t identify. Black-eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s lace, and polka-dotted foxglove, still blooming, stand tall among the death, faded a bit as they contemplate their own soon-to-come retreat.

The footpath meanders past a small bench that beckons from beneath a second and wizened apple tree; but the woman is in exploration mind and not persuaded to stop yet. Walking here requires attention as the track winds around plant beds and is dissected by hoses that coil and snake underfoot-further proof of maintenance belied by the dry dirt. The woman is forced to move slowly to avoid stumbling and, peering through her camera lens in macro setting, to examine the bees and insects interested in whatever the exhausted flowers might still have to offer.

Another bench partnered with a small table sits in front of the compost piled with discarded spring and early summer bloomers. This time the woman accepts the invitation. She looks out over the imperfect garden, at one with its descent into fall. It has been a long summer; it’s time for the flash of fall and the quiet of winter.

She pulls her journal and a green pen out of her bag and settles into the quaint bench. Really it is not at all comfortable, with its twisted-vine back; she thinks her life is a little like that-not quite a fit yet. She misses the garden she left behind; the one she had nurtured, pouring her life blood and tears into raising like a third child after
the first two had left the nest. She allows herself a moment of grief. But as she looks around, observing what is here in this garden, she forgets her discomfort in the bench, and her memories, choosing to be mindful of the moment.

Her eyes are pulled to the two apple trees that centerpiece the garden. The one near the gate is a sturdy, middle-aged tree with healthy branches bursting with ripening red-splashed fruit. Her trunk began leaning early in life, stretching for something outside the straight path of expectation. Later it forked and reached back for the familiar. The wayward path is the larger part of her, with many and strong branches. But she is balanced by valuing where she came from.

Woman: Tree, what is it that you are telling me?

Tree: My path, like yours, has not been straight. I explored outside of the expectations. But my limbs are strong, I am healthy and happy. I am growing. You are looking at the result of my unconventional life and finding me interesting. I am like you in my stretching and searching; yet here I am, rooted in this familiar garden.

The second tree is the crone: a wise, elderly woman. Her single trunk is ramrod straight; lichen encases her brittle branches. Though her south side is full and bearing fruit, her northern exposure bears evidence of great loss. She carries on with what is left to her with pride and a fierce spirit.

Woman: Tree, what is it that you are showing me?

Tree: I took a different path than my companion in the garden did; a different way than you did. Whether it was choice or happenstance doesn’t really matter. My straight path has served me well. An important part of me has left my side, but my essence remains strong. I may be old, but as long as I am able, I will bear fruit. When it is time for me to leave the garden, I will; but until then I am here living life. Don’t count me out.

The two trees bear witness to one another, and to the woman who sits on her uncomfortable bench and listens.

Woman: Trees, what does your relationship to one another have to teach me?
Trees: We are here together in this garden; but unlike many trees of the forest, we have not grown together and do not need to hold one another up. We are here, together, encouraging the other, providing support when it's needed, and respecting one another's independence. 

The crone said: See this bench beneath my branches? Many like you have come here to sit with me, and many more will come. The village is here with me, sitting at my feet and learning from my wisdom. My fruit drops from my branches and enriches the soil, providing nourishment to living and growing things. My soil will continue to provide life long after I am gone. 

The younger tree went on: In her strength, now waning, the wise tree has taught me and loved me. She continues to show me her courage. My branches are still growing. Those to my north and east and west are seeking new adventures. But see my strong branches on my south-reaching trunk? They are growing, too, and stretching out to reach the wise one. They will be there for her when she needs them. Sometimes I am stubborn in my independence; she has taught me that, too.

Woman: I am afraid. I don't know how to do this. I'm afraid that I will do it wrong; that I will let someone down; that I will not be able to live up to what is expected. I am afraid I will lose my way and my self.

Trees: You will take it as it comes, and figure it out as you go. That is what you have done all your life, and it has always worked out. It is what we have done. It is what we all must do. It is the only way there is. 

The woman thanked the trees and rose from the bench to continue her walk. She had much to contemplate. 




Jo Ann Staebler said...

This is wondrous! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a great story... and I love the photos as well. This is a beautiful blog.

Autumnal blessings!
Christina B.