At the western edge of the Wolf River Bottoms, where the highway turns north at Sparks toward White Cloud, a small orchard nests on the edge of the first slope. A dozen old-line trees cluster their branches above thick grass. As the seasons pass, sprigs turn into leaves, buds open into blooms and blooms morph into fruit. As the summer moves along, the apples grow thick and heavy in the good years. There are at least four varieties of fruit in the small orchard. I’m not sure what any of them are but my guesses are for Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonathan and Red Delicious. In reflection, I think there are a couple more types as well.
Each tree produces according to its nature and the season, with four of the trees producing huge rounded reds, another two or three the speckled greens, noticeably smaller but still good-sized. One tree, near the middle, yields a smaller red apple, less sweet than the big reds but with a pleasing flavor and firm meat.
Every tree in the orchard is a heavy producer. The branches bow toward earth with limbs loaded with fruit by late summer. As the apples continue filling in early autumn, the branches bend down toward the ground. Occasionally, owing to the strain of weight and the stress of wind, a branch will break. Otherwise, the little orchard will be filled with apples.
In spite of the bounty, almost no one comes to pick the apples. As they ripen, they begin to fall, heavy with sap and sugar. By mid-October, the ground within the arc of each tree’s branches will be completely covered with apples. Except for the two trees near the eastern edge of the orchard.
It is not that these trees don’t produce; their branches are as loaded as any of the trees, filled with small-to-medium sized greenish-golden apples. The apples have a good flavor, too. But they do not drop. They hang in the tree like ornaments instead of fruit.
I last visited the orchard on the first Saturday in November, a cool but clear day in Northeastern Kansas. In less than thirty minutes, I picked up six hundred pounds of apples and left two thousand more covering the ground beneath the trees. Beneath all but that stingy pair. They stood there, branches still filled with apples… and every apple thoroughly rotten.
Something about that reminded me that it really doesn’t matter how gifted we are, unless we are willing to give.