One of the joys of the Orchard Oculus display I did at Piper Orchard last month was the opportunity to spend an entire day, sunrise to sunset, in the orchard. It was gratifying, fun, and satisfying to be surrounded by my own creations, swinging in the breeze. But better by far to be in the presence of those wondrous heirloom apple trees, some of them over a hundred years old, and nearly all of them absolutely bursting with apples.
For my personal tree calendar, the period from August 1 to the fall equinox is devoted to Apple. So I have entered this season with particular relish and gratitude for the many gifts of the Apple. My connection was first established at Julie Charette-Nunn‘s land on Whidbey Island, when an apple tree connected me to one of my female Swedish ancestors (I wrote about this in my strudel piece). That brought me to Piper Orchard near my home, which brought to me the inspiration for the Oculus, and led to over a year spent working on its design, painting, and assembly, including many return trips to the orchard for inspiration.
My Apple chant is:
O Apple of the season
Teach me to care like you do.
What does it mean to “care like you do”? What I find so compelling about fruit trees in general and apple trees in particular is that they live in a deeply symbiotic relationship with humans. I spent some time Saturday participating in a work party at Piper Orchard with the wonderful Friends organization; while there I learned that if apple trees are not pruned they grow so high that the fruit can’t be picked. And so they are pruned, and so they stay on a human scale, and so we can receive their gifts.
This teaches me that, in order to care, I need to make myself available to others. I can’t just grow any way I want. Sometimes I would love to just go and go, sink deep into aesthetic complexity and nuance and philosophical sophistication (because I do love all that, after all!). But if I grow too high, then I’m too far away from others – then I can’t be of service.
This is pretty much exactly the bodhisattva ideal so important to Mahayana Buddhism: the highest good is not to enter a state of perfect enlightenment, but rather to hold back, to stay here and help others along the path.
O Apple of the season, teach me to grow close to the ground so what I offer is not just for myself alone. Let my fruit ripen into service – into the offering of healing, blessing, and wisdom that is my daily aspiration.