my apple trees
It is easy to feel noble, even righteous, when you plant a tree. Trees herald the beginning of things. The Garden of Eden began with trees; the Israelites were bidden to plant trees upon entering the promised land; we welcome a child with the planting of a tree.
Trees also call us to generosity. Unless you are young when you plant, most of the value of the tree will extend well beyond your lifetime. To plant a tree after 50 is to cast yourself gently into the lives of those yet-to-be. A sapling today is a message in a bottle drifting to those on a distant shore: I was here, and I was thinking of you.
One of the most famous stories of the talmud teaches us this. It is the tale of Honi the Circle-Drawer and the carob tree. Honi, renowned as someone whose insistent prayers for rain were heard by God, came across an old man planting a carob tree. "Old man," said Honi, "how long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?"
"About 70 years," replied the old man. Honi - a man all about "now" but weak on the future - scoffed a bit and asked if the old man wasn't a bit too old to benefit from the tree?
The man answered, "As my ancestors planted for me, so I will plant for others."
I remembered that story as I worked on my apple trees today. I planted three of them the day before Pesah, on Birkat Hahammah, the day we blessed the creation of the sun. I am hoping that through some miracle of fate and nature, these saplings, no more than 5 feet tall, will grow to be strapping young trees in 28 years when the next Birkat Hahammah comes around. I hope to have my picture taken beneath the spring blossoms of its spreading bowers. The caption will say: from 'Birkat Hahammah to Birkat Hahammah'. We will make something very special from the apple harvest that fall. And in the in-between years, my family and I will have enjoyed several seasons of yummy apples for welcoming Rosh Hashanah, for the apple pie for Thanksgiving, and applesauce for Hanukkah.
But today, I had to give up that hope for one of the trees. It is dead - who knows why. The other two trees are doing fine, thank goodness. But the fragility of an apple orchard, what with the deer, the rain (though this past month has been rather good), the transplanting, random disease, etc. is evident in this one loss. I also planted over 40 apple seeds erev Pesah - only 3 remain. Out of the early batch (apple seeds taken from the detritus of our haroset), only half sprouted and all of those collapsed after growing valiantly upwards three inches. Clearly I was doing something wrong. So I am now trying different planting techniques to see if I can coax new seeds to sprout and grow. (In case you are curious, about a gallon of applesauce yields a heaping tablespoon of seeds.)
Meanwhile, today I gingerly unwrapped the deer netting that I had draped directly on the branches of my three trees, and placed it instead on stakes encircling each tree. The hope is that this way, the netting will continue to keep nosy nozzles away from the blossoming and leafing little trees and still leave the trees sufficient room to grow.
Perhaps one day I will need to create a more substantial barrier around the entire perimeter. But that is an investment I cannot afford at the moment - for in my mind it will have to be a split-rail fence enclosing enough land to nurse nine mature apple trees, and room for a rustic bench tucked underneath where I will sit while my grandchildren play, or read, or draw in the orchard.
That's the way it is with trees. They bring out the dreamers in those who plant, and forge a hopeful, peaceful, verdant vision of our future. Perhaps that is why, when draping the netting over the trees, it felt like I was veiling a bride. Today stood for work and promises that will bring fruit at the end of a long path of tomorrows.
Hopefully, Honi - the petulant prophet of the power of "now" (as in, "God, make it rain now") - learned a similar lesson from that wise old man: when to press for the imperative of "now" and when to build up and celebrate the patience for "tomorrow".
Perhaps if Honi could learn it, it is not too late for Wall Street.