Michael Phillips is an orchardist and author of the book “The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist,” first published in 1998. In the introduction to the book, he writes about a low point in his life when a cider mill operation he’d been running had closed and the most of the apple trees cut down:
“Needless to say, I felt like I had lost part of my family. And yet, it was an apple tree that eventually “spoke” to me at an herbal workshop I attended in Vermont. Herbalists say every plant being has a spirit, of sorts, and so it is with trees. My meditations that day focused in part on what to do next with my life. I sat beneath a garden apple tree I had pruned for a friend earlier that spring. Deep within a voice stirred. You, too are pruned, apple grower, in order to become stronger. Now this cut is open, dripping the sap of your visions and hopes. It will heal, as all things do in time. Afterward, you will be stronger to carry the harvest to come.”
The planting of Apple Trace at Restoration Farm – in memory of my father James M. Barritt Jr. – has been a source of healing for me. The memorial took shape throughout the spring and summer, with a special plaque of living memory installed just before the Autumn Pot Luck. Perhaps after loss, we do become stronger with a focus and a purpose.
Nurturing the eight heritage apple trees has helped move me from sadness to a place of happier memories and optimism for the growth of these trees at the farm. “You, too are pruned, apple grower, in order to become stronger…It will heal, as all things do in time. Afterward, you will be stronger to carry the harvest to come.”
Throughout the summer, the weeds were often ferocious. At one point, I returned from holiday to find the weeds so overgrown that I could barely find the saplings among the tangled growth.
Bent on my knees weeding, I would think of my Dad, and how so often he had to weed, cultivate and nurture the little patch that was me. He, too, probably had frustrations as he tugged at those weeds over the years, but I’m hopeful he was pleased with the end result.
There have been bumps along the way as this fledging orchard has taken root. Early in July, two of the cows from the historic village escaped from their pasture, and wandered all the way up to Apple Trace damaging two of the trees. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Of the problems I’d anticipated, cow thrashing was not one of them. The upper third of the Winesap was cut off and the more slender Prairie Spy was nearly toppled. But, one of the volunteers, Jen Wang trimmed back the Winesap and my friend George Garbarani staked up the Praire Spy. Then we waited. The trees have shown amazing resiliency – much like my Dad always did during more than eight decades of his life. The Winesap has now filled out nicely, and although once almost bare, the Prairie Spy has now sprouted many fresh new leaves at its base. This little tree is clearly a survivor.
As autumn arrived, it was time to mulch around the base of the trees. Mulching protects the roots and deters the growth of weeds. The gentleman who provides the farm with wood chips left mountains of mulch in between the trees. It seemed like an insurmountable task.
Still, I kept pushing ahead, one scoop of mulch at a time. And, one afternoon when I had almost given up for the day, Glenn, George, Jen and Jay arrived in the truck with shovels and support. Within no time, the trees were well-blanketed with mulch. A job is always easier, and more fun, when the community pitches in.
I’m a bit concerned about the Honeycrisp, which looks quite bare, but Caroline wonders if perhaps it just concluded its growth season a little earlier than the other trees. The remaining trees are thriving, and the Newtown Pippin and Ashmead’s Kernel are at least as tall as I am.
My Mom and I had a chance to walk along Apple Trace as the sun was setting during the Autumn Pot Luck. The trees were bathed in a golden light and I was encouraged that the harvest to come will be fruitful. It made me smile, and I think Dad is smiling, too.
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved