Today we are leaving the orchard. We’ll collect all our gear and arrange it in the truck in a manner that, we hope, will leave us somewhere to sit. We’ll sweep out the little shed in which we’ve camped all these years, lock the door, and drive away.
Endings like this are always bittersweet, a seesawing between looking back and looking forward. We wish we could keep this gorgeous little piece of land, with its mountain views and clear-flowing creek. But we couldn’t care for it well enough when we were living a mere 300 miles away. Getting here several times a year from our new home in Maine is out of the question.
Count the blessings in your life, not the sorrows: I’m not sure which grandmother planted that thought in my head, but it sprouted and keeps trying hard to grow. My parents certainly lived by it. And face it, with the state of the world no one is going to feel sorry for us trading one pretty piece of land for another (though not as pretty) in our newly chosen home. Nor should they.
Still, it hurt like hell this morning when I went down to the creek for the final time, and later as I walked through the rows of trees we’ve grafted and planted here. This is family land. I can’t help worrying that giving it up means weakening my connections to cousins who are still dear to me.
But how silly Jeff and I were to think we could keep an orchard with heritage apple trees (more fragile and finicky than commercial varieties) without using an array of strong chemicals—in our spare time! (If you’d like to read the full comedy of this venture, here’s a blog with the gory details.)
It wasn’t just the black rot and Japanese beetles and round-headed borers that defeated us. Living so far away we couldn’t possibly guard against the world’s most insidious danger, human miscommunication. Two years ago we arrived to find that an orchardist had cut down three beautiful old Stayman trees, thinking they belonged to another cousin whose land he tended. They were huge and priceless and produced some of our favorite apples. But they no longer gave commercial grade fruit, so down they went.
This time, returning after a five-month absence, we discovered that the same orchardist had done some pruning for us, as a favor. Where the lush heritage trees we’d tended for years had stood, we found severely topped trees we barely recognized. It was like looking at battered war victims, or amputees.
For months I’ve worried about what will happen to our trees when we leave, not just the apples but the poplars and sourwoods and cucumber magnolias that line the creek and have sheltered us for two decades. The thought of them somehow coming to harm makes my stomach flip. But a few weeks ago, as if in a dream, I thought I heard them speak to me. Something whispered in my ear, at any rate. It said, “What makes you think you have the power to protect us, or that we depend on you? We’ll do fine. Go live your life.” The voice of God, perhaps, vocalizing the sentiment of trees? It seemed completely crazy, except that what it conveyed was so sane.
This whirling dance of life isn’t something we can control. As I looked in horror at our newly pruned trees, I knew it was time for me to let the orchard go. Even the most severely pruned will likely survive and prosper, though in a different way—a less natural way—than we’d hoped. I turned from them and walked among the younger trees, many of which Jeff and I had created with sprouts from those older trees. I was amazed to see how big they’d gotten, and how strong. They are the future. I helped make them what they are. But I am not the center of their universe, nor they of mine.
So I lean again into a lesson I’ve learned so, so many times. All I can do is put my own goodness into the world. I diminish its power when I try to control how others react to it—or try to control anything, really. The miracles only come when I step away and allow them to.
As the day wears on, I let myself mourn for the orchard. I wallow in the sadness, I feel it to my very core—and suddenly I know I have the strength to slough off this skin of sorrow. I cry until I feel emptied, because that cleansing is a requisite step. And then I walk along the creek and the rows of trees one last time. I help Jeff shove the last things into the truck, sweep the shed floor, lock up and, looking toward the future, drive away.