No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.
There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
~ Thomas Jefferson ~
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
~ Martin Luther ~
An old friend gave a sigh of surrender and gave up Thursday afternoon – on the eve of Summer Solstice. Gravity, a deep wound, and a hollowing heart proved to be more than she could bear. She laid herself down in a swirling storm of wind and torrential rain.
Our neighbor often tells the story of how the tree leaned over, many years ago, in a severe storm. The man who had planted and cared for her enlisted the help of the neighbor’s husband. Together, they lifted her up and placed her roots back in to the earth. We would have done the same for her. However, that is not an option this time.
We will miss her…….
The pollinators will miss the profusion of food her blossoms offered up each Spring. The sparrows and the nuthatches and the tufted titmice will miss the protection of her densely interwoven branches. A whole host of wildlife, and our family dogs, will miss her imperfect, pocked, and wormy apples. The dogwood, the pecans, the crape myrtle, and the holly – her neighbors for 40-some years – will no doubt miss her presence.
I will miss her for all of the above and more……
But I will never forget the night, in late summer, about 5 or 6 years ago, looking out of the bedroom window and seeing a group of white-tailed deer, silhouetted against the silvery moonlit grass, dining upon her apples. I don’t know what it was that awakened me that night, and compelled me to rise and look out of the window. Maybe it was her, saying “Look! I have something to show you! Please don’t gather up my fallen apples and put them in the trash. For I have worked hard to produce them, and they are a bountiful feast for the deer and the opossum and the squirrel and the coyote.” I never raked up and disposed of a single fallen apple after that night.
Nor will I forget the sight of Ricky, a rescued German Shepherd Dog whom we had recently adopted, thoroughly enjoying one of life’s simple pleasures – snacking. I smile when I remember the sight of that sweet old arthritic German Shepherd – with worn down teeth – quietly sashaying through the dappled shade of the pecan tree, making his way to the apple tree, browsing through the fallen apples, selecting the perfect one, trotting back up into the shady front yard, and lying down to enjoy his selection – core, seeds, stem and all. A heartwarming simple pleasure for a sweet gentle boy who, a year earlier, had been left to starve by cruel stupid people who left him chained to the mobile home they had been evicted from – out in the middle of nowhere – without food or water.
And there is this…..
Thursday morning, hours before the storm arrived, I stood in the shade of the apple tree’s branches, somewhat reluctantly obliging our youngest dog while he rolled around and tossed and played with two small green apples he found lying in the grass. As I stood there, the words “Tell my story” presented themselves very clearly to me. And I thought “Yes, I should………I will.” Standing in that same spot on Friday morning, next to her snapped and broken trunk, I felt sad – my heart was heavy – and I felt like I too gave up, gave in, surrendered a little bit. I gave in to some things that have been weighing heavy on my mind and in my heart. And I gave up trying to figure it all out – fix it – see the positive – find the best solution. I reached out and rested my hand on her fine cool bark and told her, “We will miss you. And I surrendered a little bit today too.”
A little over a year ago, during a writing retreat, I wrote about my friend and our connection. I’ll locate that notebook and post the story here….soon. For, it seems, now is the time to tell the story of The Apple Tree and Me.
~ Let us give Thanks ~
For generous friends with hearts as big as hubbards, and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends, as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions & cucumbers, keep reminding us that we’ve had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For funny friends, as silly as brussels sprouts
And serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages
and friends, like parsnips, who can be counted on to see you through the winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time
And young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And, finally, for those friends now gone, but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For this bounty of friends, we give thanks.
~ Max Coots ~
I have a calligraphy print of this lovely blessing hanging in my hallway.
I often pause to read it and I say “Amen”.
For where would I be without all of my friends?
Two weeks ago there was a Purple Parade of Spring flowers. This week, pink, magenta, fuschia, white, and lots of yellow tree pollen have joined in the celebration.
Weaving in and out, and fluttering all about are the pollinators – always a pure joy to see. The first hummingbird was sighted a few days ago – visiting the nectar feeder, the pansies, and the azalea. He or she drank deeply at the feeder, perhaps tired and thirsty from the long migration journey. Bumble, Carpenter, Solitary, and Honey bees have been busily working alongside me in the garden – I am thankful for the early flowering plants and trees that tide them over until the massive April flowering happens. A few early Swallowtail butterflies are about as well.
Interestingly, the tiny lavender flowers of the Ground Ivy (Creeping Charlie) seem to be everyone’s favorite. The Ground Ivy has been flowering for about 30 days now, and as one of the earliest nectar sources, it is popular because there are few other native flowering plants in abundance in mid to late March. But, even now, with an abundance of trees and plants in blossom, the humming and buzzing of the bees is most audible at the Ground Ivy. How can I call it a weed when it feeds so many crucial contributors to an abundant environment? After pulling up armloads of it from under and around our raised garden troughs, and being aware that I was a bit unpopular for doing so (🐝🐝🐝), we’ll wait until the flowers have faded before mowing the Creeping Charlie carpet along the ditchline, the woodsy edges, and around the Muscadine arbor. “Anything I can do to help” – my personal Mantra – my promise to Mother Earth.
Spicebush Swallowtail (I think) feeding on nectar of lavender Ground Ivy flowers. My camera was having a hard time finding focus, most likely because the butterfly was fluttering his wings constantly. But I love the colors in the photo, and it almost seems to have a dream-like quality to it.
First grape leaves unfurling.
Montmorency cherry blossom – I would love to have enough cherries to make a cobbler this year!
Azalea blossoms and new lime green leaves.
The way the sunlight pierced through the blossoms of this azalea just outside my window was so striking that I wanted to capture it. But I was afraid the window screen would detract from the beauty. Instead, I love how the screen gives the photo a needlepoint appearance! It reminds me of the floral needlepoint and cross-stitch pillows that lovingly graced the sofas and the armchairs of my grandma’s and my adopted grandma’s living rooms.
Wassail , from Old English waes hael, is a beverage made of fruit juices, most commonly apple juice or cider, and spices, slowly heated and served warm. The Old English waes hael means “be healthy”. The ancient tradition of “wassailing” included singing, toasting, and drinking the beverage – to the health of the villagers and to the health of the apple trees, blessing the trees in the hopes of bountiful harvests to come. I like the idea of acknowledging and showing appreciation for the bounty that Gaia provides! For without that bounty, where would we be?
Place cloves in a mesh tea basket. Add apple and cranberry juice to a large saucepan. Dissolve brown sugar in the juices. Simmer until hot over low heat with cinnamon sticks and clove basket. If you need to keep the wassail warm for an extended perior of time, transfer to pre-warmed slow cooker, low setting.
Serve in glass mugs and garnish with a fresh cinnamon stick & orange wheel.
Wassail can be stored in refrigerator for up to one week. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks and cloves prior to storing in refrigerator.
P.S. The house will smell like heaven! This is a great beverage to serve for a holiday open house – your guests will be greeted with the delicious yuletide aroma upon arrival!
– Dalai Lama –
Don’t forget you-know-who when you’re doing your holiday baking! Woof!
Peanut Butter Pup Cookies
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add peanut butter, honey, and eggs. Beat on low until well combined. Gradually add water, beating until dough holds together.
Place dough on large sheet of parchment paper & cover with a second large sheet of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll out until dough is about ½ thick. Slide parchment with dough on to a large cookie sheet and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.
Remove dough from refrigerator, remove top parchment. Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a bone shaped cookie cutter (or any fun shape(s) of your choice), cut out cookies and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can also use a cap from a soda or water bottle to make small rounds. Gather up extra dough pieces and roll out again or roll into small balls and flatten with your thumb. Use up all that luscious dough!
Bake 1 hour. Cool on rack. Recipe makes about 20 bone-shaped cookies, 3” long.
Cheese Please Doggie Snacks
Combine oatmeal, oil, and water (or hot broth) in a large mixing bowl. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in powdered buttermilk, grated cheese, salt & egg. Add cornmeal and wheat germ. Mix well. Add flour, about a half a cup at a time, incorporating well each time. After all the flour is incorporated, knead 3 to 4 minutes to make a very stiff dough.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll out dough to about ½ inch thickness. Using a bone shaped cookie cutter (or any other shape(s) of your choice), cut out snacks, placing on lightly greased cookie sheet. You can also use a cap from a soda or water bottle to make small rounds. Gather up extra dough pieces and roll out again or roll into small balls and flatten with your thumb. Use up all that luscious dough!
Bake for 1 hour at 300 degrees. Turn off heat and leave the snacks in the oven for 1 hour or longer. Recipe makes about 2 pounds of snacks.
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"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most dazzling view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds." – Edward Abbey