Saturday, September 10, 2011

Them Apples

I can still vividly remember the day that the four of us walked this farm for the first time with our realtor, Frank. We saw numerous farms in the summer of 2009, and were no strangers to degradation and neglect: rotted-out beams, heaps of trash, and foul-smelling houses. The process of assessing and purchasing a run-down farm must filter out those inclined to cynicism. This probably is a good thing, because I've noticed that farmers foster a gambler's sense of optimism. I've heard at our kitchen table "This project won't take long.", and "This will probably hold." often enough, along with all manner of optimistic predictions concerning rain and sunshine.

Pulling up to the driveway with Frank, we were greeted by a wildly barking dog. It was a Maremma, which is a large sheepherding breed (they look a lot like Great Pyrenees). With three legs and one eye*, this rascal must have been the closest a dog could come to being a pirate. It's one good eye fixed upon us, and bulged as it barked. Vertically through an empty socket ran a devilish scar. Argh, and Blackbeard be his name. He had a fleet of swarthy friends, for it seemed that every building on the property had a chained and barking dog to guard it. Later we learned that the owner had close to 20 of these dogs. Each had it's own tale of woe: burrdock snarled in their coats, patches of dirt pawed away, and discarded meat bones.

I could go on about the dogs.

That day was early June, and the grass and weeds came up through the trash piles and old fencing in tangles. Frank told us that before he got into realty, he was a dairy farmer. He must have cultivated his own sense of optimism because at one point his beefy arm waved over the weeds and commented, "You never know what treasures you're going to find out there." Our four, stoney faces followed his wave. I stared hard into the grass growing through the agricultural rubbish, trying to envision something desirable hidden there unseen. Then I looked at Blackbeard who wasn't barking anymore, but standing and staring at us with his one eye. I was sure that if there were any "treasures" hidden on this farm, this pirate-dog would take them to his watery grave.

To be sure, there were plenty of things that missed our critical gaze that June afternoon. There was the tire dump in the woods we found last year. And the other dump on the hill. Those weeds ended up containing yards and yards of bailing twine which was a nightmare to extract from the grass and ground. And did I mention the dead cats behind the refrigerator?

But assuredly, this week, we discovered treasure. There are apple trees bearing big, delicious apples on our hillside up the road. Last May we got a terrible frost just as the deciduous trees were all leafing out which must have killed the apple blossoms. This past spring had no such sudden dip in temperature. Many of the trees have small fruit, barely larger than a walnut. Some are green and blushing pink; some are striated and bright-red. Edmund discovered a tree bearing tiny apples with a deep red flesh and almost purple skin. Those ones are too tart to eat and remind me of cranberries. I'm convinced that with proper fertilization and pruning, all of these trees could bear much bigger fruit.

It has been my habit for several months now to eat an apple with peanut butter as part of my breakfast every morning. There are times when the work we've done seems to barely have scratched the surface. Discovering these apples seems to me like such a wonderful and unseen treasure.


* I've now been told by Edmund that there was a three-legged dog and a different, one-eyed dog. In my memory these two dogs just melded into one, and the storyteller in me just had to write it this way. I believe (ahem!) that it's a family trait. Also, the one-eyed dog's name couldn't have possibly been Blackbeard. That wouldn't have made any sense seeing that Maremmas are white. Edmund tells me it was Clyde.

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