My husband and I picked these apples today, the first harvest of our very own.
He held the bowl and pulled aside the netting that protected the apples from the deer while I reached in and plucked them all.
It took a total of about one minute, including the walk from tree to tree. Five years of growing, one mammoth snow storm, innumerable stakings and drapings, worrying and watering, mending and waiting. And the picking took about one minute.
(How many things are over too quickly, no matter how long it takes to prepare? A great meal? A wedding reception? A longed-for vacation? Childhood? Life?)
Two trees. Seven apples. One minute.
We had eleven apples when last we looked. One we picked two weeks ago so my son could take it to college and have it to celebrate his first Rosh Hashanah away from home. Three must have fallen off. Perhaps the deer ate them. Seven remained for us to pick today.
I have picked apples in the past, from branches so high we needed a claw on a stick to tug them toward us, and branches just right so the children could reach them on their own.
These trees, our trees, were in the middle. The apples hung breast and shoulder high, just so, ready to be plucked.
I grasped the first one, from the taller tree. It was beginning to show spots and I worried that we had already let it go past its peak. And yet, when I tugged at it, it tugged back. Resisted. I turned the stem a bit, gently urging its release. It didn’t let go.
I remembered a conversation I had with my doctor years ago on the question of miscarriages. A healthy baby will stay in the womb, he assured me, as much as a healthy apple will stay on the tree. No manner of everyday knocking about will set it loose. But when it is ripe and ready, it will come down.
This apple sure looked ripe, and over-ready, yet it did not easily let go. I had to twist it and tug it til it finally surrendered. The other apples came down more readily, though they too did not give in without a fight.
Or so I thought when I was standing by the trees. But now I have a different perspective.
Now, as I sit in my study and see the trees, bereft of their fruit, I wonder if it wasn’t that the apples clung tightly to the trees but that the trees clung tightly to the apples. Who, exactly, was holding on to whom?
I remember leaving my children with a babysitter one particular night 25 years ago. One of my sons was anxious and upset. I reassured him that I would be back when the clock struck eight. And I remember thinking as I turned my back to the house and walked away: today I am the one walking out the door and he is the one at home crying. Someday, it will be the other way around. Only he will not be back by eight.
The apple trees stand in our front yard now, like my husband, the empty house, and me. The leaves and furniture; roots and trunk; health and buoyancy; dreams and wishes all remain. But one grand purpose of our lives, one weighty and draining, luscious and beautiful cluster of ornaments that defined and molded the shape of our lives for so very long has been plucked from our midst. We are lighter, no doubt, but also a bit sadder.
Yet, that is how it is meant to be. How much sadder would we be if they did not grow up and go away?
How fortunate, then, that our first harvest should coincide with this new chapter of our lives, reminding us of the seasons of time, the various harvests with which we are blessed. And the new year that is about to unfold before us.