Have you taken a walk, in an area you thought was purely natural and untouched, only to find evidence of previous habitation? Where humans go, we leave our imprint. Very often that’s an unpleasant sight—candy wrappers or cigarette butts in an otherwise pristine landscape. But sometimes we come across a sign that humans lived here and sought to beautify their world.
If you find day lilies, a lilac bush, or an apple tree in a field, it’s a good sign that people once lived on that spot and tried to make it their own.
As I take walks in my rural setting, I love finding an old apple tree, heavy with fruit and surrounded by deadfall. I know it means that, at some point, someone planted that tree and encouraged it along, and the tree is still providing as best it can.
Some people hate the sight of deadfall. They see it as sad, because the people are gone and the tree is producing for no one. Or they see it as wasteful. I read a blog a couple of months ago, in which the author wrote, fairly indignantly, about how awful it was that fruit was allowed to sit on the ground and rot when it could feed hungry people.
But I don’t see deadfall as sad or wasteful. The tree is doing what it was designed to do and, even though the humans who planted it are gone, the fruit is feeding innumerable birds and animals, as well as re-feeding the very ground in which the tree grows. And it provides an unanticipated sense of community to any person who happens by, and recognizes the human hand behind the tree’s existence on that spot.
I love the poem “Unharvested” by Robert Frost. I don’t know if I love it because it expresses my feelings about these old trees or if my feelings about the trees derive from the poem. It’s not as well known as his other poem about apples, “After Apple Picking,” but it is a much more hopeful poem.
A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.
May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.
As humans, we plant and we harvest. We monitor the seasons and try to account for every little thing. We become difficult to surprise or delight. The discovery of an unexpected deadfall, the sweetness in the air and the color on the ground, becomes our reminder that nature still has the ability to outwit us and surprise us, and to outlast us.
So, should we see it as deadfall, and a waste, or a lively, and uplifting, lesson about being open to the unplanned and nature’s ability to catch us off guard?