Two weeks ago we had ferocious windstorm. Two majestic oaks (albeit already dead) crashed to the ground. The PVC pipe that feeds our rainwater cistern broke off and the orchard gate blew down. Fixing the gate, which was already falling apart, had been on my “to do” list for a year. Now I couldn’t ignore it.
The ten small trees in the orchard give us peaches, apricots, pears and apples in the late summer. There are also blackberries, raspberries, a tiny plum tree, and three struggling blueberry plants that I planted last year. We inherited the orchard when we moved to this house and land in 2016. As a city boy, I knew absolutely nothing about trees and plants. I learned.
In the dormant winter months I prune the trees. I spray them with a solution to prevent scale and leaf curl. I weed the circle of earth around each trunk, mix steer manure into the soil and mulch with wood chips. Sometime in March or April I will turn on the irrigation system, clear the line filters, put new batteries in the water timers, and fix breaks in the lines.
In our first two years here I was stingy with the water. Last year I increased the flow and we were rewarded by an abundant harvest. In May I will weed wack the tall grass that will have grown up around the trees. In June as the trees are fruiting, I will hang red and silver scare tape from limbs to ward of the birds which would otherwise peck holes into every pear, peach and apple. In the first year I tried netting the trees, but small birds got caught in the nets and died.
Now when I least want to do it, I have to fix the gate. What I really wanted to do is get back to work on editing The Restless Hungarian film, which I was last deeply engaged with just a month ago, in France. I miss it terribly. But without the gate and the eight-foot high wire fence, the trees would not survive the depredations of the deer. They go for anything that is green and watered in the dry summer months.
I think of myself as a filmmaker and writer, not a farmer. Yet the orchard has somehow captured me, obliging me to tend it through the seasons. Why is this? A real farmer would have a good laugh. My peaches must be the most expensive in the world.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about something that I call “the mysterious unfolding of reality.” For all the narratives that assail me, either externally or internally, I cannot know the future. What happens is rarely what my imagination prepares me for. Is it the same with you? I think that most of us expend a lot of energy on what may, or may not, happen. In order to be well poised to deal with calamity, we continually strive to “get ground under out feet” as Pema Chodron puts it, to be in a secure place, or rather a place that give us the illusion of security. I see that this anxiety, my pre-occupation with getting ground under my feet, often makes me blind to the mysterious unfolding of reality.
So, what does all this have to do with the orchard gate? The gate shattering in the windstorm was irrefutable reality. I cursed it, but it needed attention. Resentful at first, I tended to it. But as I worked on the gate, it became the thing that I was doing. I carefully disassembled the pine wood slats and glued them together in stages. It took three days since I only had enough clamps to glue one section at a time. I filled all the holes with putty, rough-sanded the whole thing, painted it with some left-over sky-blue paint I found in the garage, and replaced the small screws on the hinge flanges with solid ¼” bolts.
I feel satisfaction. The orchard is, literally, the ground under my feet. The fruit will be protected from deer for another season. The past couple of mornings Sharon and I have walked out to admire the gate, which looks like a small patch of blue sky set down upon the earth.
Soon I can go back to work on The Restless Hungarian.