Sunday, January 29, 2023

Lessons Learned From My Apple Trees


Lessons Learned From My Apple Trees
They're Really Not That Much Different From Me

by Bob Summerfield
Brovold Community Orchard
Alberton, Montana

Managing an orchard is a lot of work. While I’m getting an abundance of physical exercise working in the orchard, my mind and spirit often have an opportunity to get a workout too. There’s something about walking among a grove of young and old apple trees that causes me to reflect on life, both theirs and mine. The youthful vigor of the young trees contrasted with the scarred and misshapen figures of the old trees makes me think about the journey of my own life and the lessons life teaches us along the way. In the end, my apple trees are not that much different from me. Our youthful potential is shaped over time by the many triumphs and defeats we experience in our daily battles to exist. If we’re lucky, those battles teach us lessons that accumulate over a long life. These accumulated lessons are the origin of wisdom.

The Stages of Life
This narrative will speak about the life stages of apple trees, but the subliminal message is that people experience just about the same stages of life. As you read about the life of apple trees, think about how the same principles apply to your own life. In reality, I am speaking about both apple trees and people. 

When a new apple tree comes into the world, whether through seed or some form of vegetative propagation, it holds all the potential that its genetic makeup allows. Not all trees are exactly alike, of course. Its genes will determine if it will be cold hardy or not, to what extent it is disease resistant, and whether it will produce red or yellow apples. Other characteristics, like whether it will be a tall or short tree, and whether it will be long or short lived, may be determined both by genetics and the environment in which the tree is planted. Young trees must be trained to grow in the way we want them to be later in life. If not, they will become wild and unruly and not very productive. The training comes by way of pruning, or cutting away undesirable parts, and by bracing or bending them in the way that is best for them to grow. Young trees need to be solidly rooted and well fed to achieve their growth potential. Sometimes, they seem to shoot up overnight like a teenager. They also need plenty of sunlight and fresh air to be at their best.

A middle-aged apple tree is in its most productive working years. It produces a lot of fruit for the people who are dependent on it. Year after year it goes about its job with no complaints. Occasionally, though, it will take a year off to rest. A sort of vacation if you will. But then it goes right back to work and is even more productive. Inevitably, storms come into the life of a middle-aged tree, and these can cause damage, like broken limbs. If sufficiently severe, a storm could even uproot a tree and end its life prematurely. External vectors, like animals or equipment, may damage a tree, resulting in wounds that may never fully heal. Microbes may enter these wounds and cause a tree to rot from the inside out. Similarly, insects may lay eggs on the tree’s young fruit, and the larvae will burrow inside, spoiling the apples. These bad influences will sometimes cause the fruit to become rotten to the core. When an apple tree produces good fruit, though, the sweet, crisp apples are a delight that will bring a smile to any child’s face. “By their fruit ye shall know them,” is a familiar adage, and you’ll certainly know a good apple tree by the wonderful fruit it yields.

Old apple trees are gnarly and misshapen, bearing wounds accumulated over a lifetime. Their trunks and limbs may be moss-covered, and ants or other insects may live in their rotten centers. They are weakened by years of exposure and the stresses of a hard life. Some of their largest limbs may even be missing. Yet they still do their best to be productive. Their apples may not be as plentiful or as large as in the past, but they are just as sweet as ever. You can tell when an apple tree is nearing the end of its time. Their lifespan is not much different from a human’s really. One hundred years is a very old age for an apple tree.

12 Lessons We Learn from Apple Trees
1. You are a product of your genetic makeup and your environment. You can’t do much about your genes, but planting yourself in a good clean and healthy environment will improve your chances of having a productive and successful life. If you have good genes AND a good environment, count your blessings. We take our blessings for granted far too often.

2. Plant your roots deeply. Establishing a connection to place and values will allow you to weather the storms life inevitably brings. Be an active part of your local community and allow it to be a part of you. Know what you believe, and hold strong to your values. There is good and bad in the world. Always work for good in the place where you are planted.

3. Just because an apple tree didn’t produce fruit last year doesn’t mean it won’t this year. Let the disappointing parts of your past go and look to the present. Each day is a new day; each year is a new year. Strive to be your best each day. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

4. Sometimes an apple tree takes a year off just to rest. Being busy every moment isn’t being productive, it’s being a workaholic. It’s okay to take time off for rest and relaxation. Take care of yourself, and then when you do get back to work, you’ll be that much more productive.

5. Apple branches grow some each year. A good orchardist encourages the desirable growth by pruning away the undesirable growth. Prune the undesirable parts out of your life, and the things you want to keep in your life will grow stronger.

6. There are no perfect apple trees or perfect apples. A small blemish on an apple doesn’t stop it from being sweet to the taste and nourishing to the body. Don’t let your imperfections stop you from bringing comfort and happiness to others.

7. In my orchard, bears sometimes break limbs off the trees to get the apples, and a deer can kill a young tree by rubbing its antlers on the bark. I must protect the trees from these destructive influences. Who and what are the destructive influences in your life? Protect yourself from them.

8. An apple tree is a good thing, but a bunch of apple trees is an orchard, and that’s even better. Surround yourself with compatible people who you know and trust, and you’ll be a part of a greater good.

9. Apples don’t benefit an apple tree directly. Rather, the tree is benefitted when people or animals spread the seeds from the apples, and the seeds produce a new generation of apple trees. Likewise, share the fruits of your life with others. It may not benefit you directly, but the seeds of your generosity may come back to benefit the world in unforeseen ways.

10. Apples come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, and most of them are good. The same can be said of people. Sometimes apples start off good but then become rotten to the core. That can be said of people too.

11. Plants grow toward the light. Follow their lead and avoid the dark things of life. Surround yourself with the light of truth and kindness.

12. Old, gnarly apple trees and elderly people may look disfigured and unproductive, but both have fed and cared for many during their long lives. Respect and honor them for what they have done. Learn the lessons they share. Treasure the gift of the last fruits they have to offer.





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