Apples: Part III

Day 147 of 365

“Foraged Apples, Sweet and Sour” by KierinSight, Unsplash

Just as I was starting to understand that I wanted to change my life, to live more connectedly to nature, to get close to my food, I met a colleague who worked in the grants office at the university where I was teaching, and she understood me as others had not yet been able to. I treasured her. One day, I arrived for a meeting, and she had a gift for me—a bag of organic apples from a farm near where she lived in New York state. I held those apples with such love and admiration, and my gratefulness to this person ran so deep. I am a person who is deeply grateful for gifts. It seems so wonderful that someone thinks of me to give me anything. But organic apples! What gift in the world could I have loved more? 

Apples and I keep having these “run-ins” of sorts, so I have to write just a little bit more. Plus, there’s something about a trilogy, I think. I have been thinking about why I love apples so much all week. I realize, after a week of pondering apples, they represent hope to me. 

Apples are special, not in their sweetness and beauty, but in their sweetness, beauty, and durability. After all, strawberries are so sweet and beautiful, as are raspberries, and so many other beautiful fruits from the harvests here in Maine. But apples. Apples can last. You don’t even have to freeze a good storage apple like a Granny Smith or a Liberty. Even the ever-so-sweet Honeycrisp stores well. You just wrap them in newspapers and put them in a basket in the basement, and those apples will feed you for months. How generous of them to be so sweet and so sturdy.

The events of my life so far have shown me that sturdiness is important. I have this feeling it’s going to be even more important as life goes on. 

Climate change is already making our lives harder, and it feels like things are really just getting started. Still, there is some acceptance I notice in myself that I didn’t have before. Because I work with people in the sciences on their dissertations, I have noticed a shift in the rhetoric about climate change in the last year or so. 

For a while, there were the warnings: “Listen up, climate change is going to happen if we don’t do something right now.” Then, the rhetoric got really unusual. Scientists were angry, yelling, desperate to get our attention, something not common at all in academic writing: “Listen here! This is serious! We’re not even kidding!” Of course, it seems the course was set. Now, there is a shift toward a kind of acceptance: “Okay, so this is happening. Let’s help humanity figure out how to adjust, migrate, adapt, survive.” 

Somehow, though I would have thought this place of acceptance would feel more hopeless to me, it feels more hopeful. Maybe it’s that the reality of it cannot be avoided, but it seems like more and more, the people I know—and not just the scientists—are looking for ways to adapt, which often involves learning how to live more in harmony with Nature. The farmers I talk to are nothing short of heroic to me, but they are determined. And, in seeing this, I find solace—and hope. 

The state of affairs with the apple exemplifies what smart people can do when they have to. When Michael Pollan published The Botany of Desire in 2001, he expressed deep concern for the state of the apple. We had farmed the diversity right out of the apple, and lack of diversity within any species is dangerous for that species. If everyone is the same, it doesn’t take much to wipe everyone out. Strength is diversity. Isn’t it interesting that this seems to be a truth humans struggle so greatly to learn? 

But true it is, and, thankfully, people like Michael Pollan raised awareness about the apple. Then, more people started doing something about it. Farmers started to work hard to preserve heirloom varieties of apples. Small farmers and individuals got involved and started working to ensure more apples varieties were cultivated. And consumers helped too. They showed they were open to different and interesting varieties of apples. 

I used to only buy my apples at chain grocery stores. I remember a time, not that long ago, when I bought apples at the grocery store, I really had just three or four varieties to choose from—Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and a something yellow, maybe a Gala, maybe a Golden Delicious. Today, even at the chains, I see at least seven or eight varieties, sometimes more in apple season. And so many people now shop from small farms and at farmers markets. In John Forti’s speech at the Common Ground Fair last month, he said that, in the last decade or so, the number of farmers markets in the United States has grown from the hundreds to the thousands–and the growth continues. 

Historians and farmers continue to work together to preserve heirloom apples. The work on this here in my adopted home state of Maine is remarkable. Maine treasures its heirloom apples. I recently discovered a map of heirloom orchards here in Maine and hope to visit one this year. How fantastic would it be to try a Sundance, a Zestar, or a Cox Orange Pippin apple? And there is a whole movement toward cider apples and a market for hard cider. We don’t want to lose this diversity, so we work to keep them going for future generations. 

And if we can work together to ensure future generations have heirloom apples, we can work together to figure out ways to adapt to climate change. Hopefully, right? 

Apples are such a gift, such a reminder that nature is magnificent, sturdy, that humans can be magnificent, and that life can be so sweet, even if we have to be a little sturdy to ensure we can enjoy it. 

I wanted to conclude my apple trilogy with a quote shared with me by a dear friend, one who sees through my wall of protection so well that I decided to just go ahead and take it down. It’s a quote by Louise Erdrich, from her novel, The Painted Drum, which I have yet to read but is on my list for this coming Winter. When you read this quote, I am certain it will be on your list too because it’s full of truths about life, love, loss–and apples. 

Think of this quote. Go to the apple orchard. Pick the apples. Eat them. Remember to love them. Remember to love. 

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and being alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You have to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes too near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”