In my back yard there is an apple tree. When we moved here a little over a year ago, it was scrubby and covered with small, tasteless green apples that fell to the ground before they ever ripened. I thought, “The best thing that could happen to this place is to cut that tree down and make place for a better one.”
That’s a divergence from my earlier gardener self, who took in little homeless sick plants and nursed them back to health, who planted all the tomatoes (even the spindly ones that didn’t have a chance to really do much), and who bought cheap trees thinking quantity made up for quality. Now my land is small and space is precious, too precious to feed and nurture and wait for things that don’t bear good fruit. I’ve learned to say no, to pull up slow-growing plants, and to cut back overreaching limbs to make space for better fruit. Because it isn’t about looks; it’s about fruit.
But I didn’t have time to cut down the apple tree in the back yard this winter, so I determined to just tolerate the thing another year, with its immature apples and its blasted roots sucking up water. I didn’t trim it, or cut the grass away from the base, but just watered my lawn at an astronomical rate. And as the summer proceeded and I mowed the grass under it that I was really more concerned about, I noticed that the apples were bigger, much bigger. As I watched them grow, I also noticed fewer of them on the ground. Soon they began turning a nice, robust russett red.
Filled with doubt, I pulled a huge one off the tree and tasted it. I couldn’t believe it. Firm, crisp flesh, with a mildly tart taste … not only good apples, but my favorite kind. I looked eagerly through the tree. It was covered with apples, bushels of them mottled that lovely green/red shade that marks an heirloom russet. I stood there with my mouth open.
How did a weak, useless, space-absorbing, water-sucking pathetic tree turn into a magnificent treasure that I would have had to wait years to enjoy fruit from?
There are a lot of lessons from the harvest. It’s still a good thing to pull up dying plants, to cut back overreaching limbs, and to maintain order and high expectations in the garden. But it is also a good thing to try one more time, to “dig about the roots” and to water deeply. It is a good thing to wait, and let the thing be a work in progress.
Impatient as I am, I value more deeply every passing year a God who is taking his sweet time coming back, giving us time in our gardens to dig about the roots, trim back and let fill in, and water deeply our own and our neighbors roots. Within ourselves, our loves ones, our families, and our communities are those who are not so much pathetic as underfed … and we’ll never know what they could be unless we try … believing.
I am so glad I didn’t cut that tree down, even if my nurturing was a careless coincidence. I hope I am more perceptive in future.