In my backyard, I have a snow sweet apple tree in its third season. It stands tall and skinny. Two branches reach out to the side as if it were ready to give a hug. The other branches angle upward. The tree bloomed and brightened our spring, and those blooms have changed into apples the size of gumballs.
“It’s growing,” Reece said. She stood by me sitting in my Adirondack chair.
“Yes, the tree is growing,” I said. But that’s not what she was talking about. She put in my palm an apple she picked off the tree. This was not her first apple either. Each branch at its current height is accessible to her. And her little hands–and curious mind–are as big a threat to my crop as birds and bugs and disease.
“Stop picking the apples. They don’t grow after you pick them.” This was not her first reprimand.
I’ve become protective of my tree. The first summer it produced three apples. The second summer it didn’t produce any apples. Not one. The culprit could have been all the little hands that play in our backyard or it could have been the tree itself. I understand apple trees need years to mature before producing fruit. When it didn’t produce last summer I told myself to be patient. It looks happy. It’s filling out, getting taller. It likes its home. All the apples on its branches this summer now confirm this.
I sent Reece to the square of garden that is dirt, a spot left for the kids to dig and get dirty. I watched her play. I pondered how her young brain is different from mine. How her logic concludes that the apple in my hand will grow, even if its not connected to its tree. When I started gardening, I wanted to teach my daughters seeds, dirt, sun, water, harvest. I didn’t know that those lessons also included waiting and observing with the parental chant from the sidelines: “Quit stepping on ANYTHING that is green!”
Earlier this year, my older daughters picked tulips and creeping phlox from one part of our garden and replanted the stems in the dirt in my whiskey barrel. They told me later they were getting flowers ready for Mother’s Day. Of course, the plants fell over. They wilted. I found them flat on their sides, doing no more growing, despite being in the dirt. I’ve come to terms with kids picking flowers and wanting to share their bouquets with adults. I found their method of transplanting blooms almost humorous. But the tree is a different matter to me.
I got up from my chair to flip the burgers I was grilling. Reece returned to my side with yet another apple.
“On the ground,” she said. And the apple, split in the center and nibbled at by creatures living at ground level, confirmed that Reece had found it in the grass. I hoped that was progress. That she was showing me she understood to leave the apples to the tree and would enjoy the exploration of what’s fallen instead. If she could resist the urge to pick all those apples before their time, she’ll also learn about that first bite and juicy delicious crunch of a September’s harvest.