There’s an apple tree in our garden. A few days ago, I watched Ricky the gardener rake its rotten fruit into two piles. The apples are orange, they look more like plums than apples.
“It needs a tree doctor, that all needs to be cut away,” my mum said, talking of the beefy branches that wing out to rob the tree of a traditional look.
I knew the tree was sick, but it wasn’t the extra limbs that gave it away. I thought little of those branches until Mum said anything. It was instead something that I cannot factually attribute to disease. The tree has grey bark– dark, washed brown with whispers of grubby white. Its base– the bit of the tree that allows all the rest, is less than thick with well-being. But those are neither here nor theres. The non-negotiable was the fruit– the way it showers the garden, with not a fleck of interest from anyone who sees.
It doesn’t know it’s unwell. Or maybe it does, and it cannot help but do what feels right. My mum wanted to cut it down at first, but the child in me fought for it– the one who had a lot of hope deferred for moments like this– where one might have a fruit tree in a big garden with a room that overlooks it. Now it will be treated, soon enough, sooner or later. Its ability to produce is the redeemable quality, mountains of fruit in its years of neglect. But perhaps not, perhaps it’s how deep its roots have travelled.
Our house was built in the early 20th century– it withstood the war while other homes that surround were bombed. The tree had to have been planted after then, apple trees live to be about 50 years. Or, maybe it was there before. The oldest apple tree in the world was 194 years old, it lived in Vancouver, and died in 2020. It was known by how long it had survived, named simply ‘Old Apple Tree’. So, maybe it’s the length of survival, it’s right to many more years, or the unknown years it has left, that makes our tree worth saving.
I want to go out there and pick apples for the Sunday crumbles and the fresh juices. It’s a sure thing that the tree will heal, once we bother. We don’t know what it could be yet. It could weaponise this family with self-sufficiency. It could do all sorts, but pure joy is what it will give, and what it will have, when the time is ripe. But as for right now, it’s a sore sight. It clutters the garden with soft, wormy fruit. It’s not for people but for the pigeons and the parakeets. We have lived without the tree for so long, we have never truly lived with it, and maybe mum was right. Why not let the garden be a place for free-running and unhindered barbecues. Let us no longer wonder why it is there, or go on watching the zombie. Let us be rid of it. Or, let us go on picturing the ways it would give back, if first it was given to. Let me continue to see it as it truly is, and not as it appears.
Somebody planted it. The person who lived here before us moved in as a young man, and had begun to die here. He saw it flourish, and with him began the neglect. But it was planted to be more than it became. And we’ve all fallen short, in being unwell. We’ve all been unwell.