When we think of an apple we generally think of a homey, healthy, thoroughly virtuous, Health Canada-approved snack. One a day, we say, keeps the doctor away. They are stacked like cordwood in our supermarkets and sit in rosy innocence on the teacher's desk. Apples are as all-American as motherhood and - well, apple pie. They are the sensible shoes in Mother Nature's closet. Nonetheless, as I have discovered, the apple still has the power to enchant.
I was sitting with friends in their garden under a vivid blue September sky. We were discussing the condiment theory of hot dogs: the appropriateness of onions, raw or fried; mayo or no mayo; Miracle Whip or Hellmans; kid's mustard (French's) or grown-up mustard (Dijon); the ketchup factor; the rightness of relish; and whether roasted peppers should dress the dog or be served on the side. I was taking notes somewhat distractedly because my attention was diverted by the arrival of two deer - a mother and her doe - on the lawn by the apple tree. They grazed contentedly, snuffling about beneath the tree and lifting their muzzles from time to time to eye the ripe fruit just out of reach above them.
It struck me then that this was, quite possibly, the most perfect of apple trees. It looked ancient and solid, as if this were its appointed spot and had been for 100 years. The foliage was lush and apples peeked through its greenery like baubles on a Christmas tree. With the deer beneath its boughs and the impossibly blue sky above, it was as picture-perfect as if drawn in crayons by a child's hand.
"I've never really seen that tree before," I said. "I've looked at it for countless summers, but I'd not really seen it. Until now."
My friends weren't sure how old it was. It seemed as though it had always been there. And they weren't sure exactly what kind of apples it bore. But they were good, they assured me, crunchy and sweet. Would I like some?
There was a ladder leaning against the tree's lower branches. White ladder. Crimson fruit. And the greenest green imaginable under the blue dome of the sky. I could see why Adam and Eve might throw caution to the wind under the circumstances.
The deer watched from a respectful distance as I positioned the ladder and made my cautious ascent. The big apples, the ones I had my eye on, were, predictably, just out of reach. But I snagged a couple of smaller ones and lobbed them toward the deer. They considered me briefly with curious brown eyes and ambled over to eat. I'd not noticed until then what long eyelashes deer have. How tender and knowing their eyes.
My friend helped me wobble down to solid ground, then he made his way up into the arms of the tree. He picked the fruit with gentle fingers as if handling fine china. "This one?" "Yes! And that one there. Oh, and there's a beauty, on the branch to your right." It seemed to me that this venerable old tree relinquished its fruit with a patience borne of ages to hands it knew and trusted.
My friend gathered apples until my arms were full. Then he searched out more modest pickings to offer to the still-waiting deer. They watched us leave, then tip-toed back to see if we'd left anything behind. We had, of course, but they were gifts that would keep, in the tree's green shade, until another day.
The apples I brought home with me were the best I've ever tasted. But then, these were special apples, picked on a golden day from a picture-book tree that I'll visit again, if I'm lucky, this time next year.
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