Addie began to plant grasses and perennials throughout the new orchard. She is down there daily digging, and watching, and watering. One evening soon after we began planting the trees she came up to the house stricken — prairie dogs were shredding the new grafts.
On our farm there are at least five orchards. The oldest is the peach orchard and it is dying. Peach orchards do not live long. Ours is about 30 years old. It was in decline upon our arrival. We cut out the dead. To save the orchard we chose to remove the trees that we perceived as weak, diseased, or difficult to irrigate.
Our actions were guided by what we thought was wise. To save the whole we needed to sacrifice a few. Smarter people would have cut out the entire orchard and started anew. But we have loved this orchard and we have poured our labor into it; we have learned wisdom and we have learned folly.
Peaches are to be savored, the tree and the fruit. The trees are short-lived and the fruit does not hold. I remember working in the field one spring evening. Looking up I saw a blue heron flying slowly across the orchard in full bloom, the sky slightly bluer than the bird, twilight throughout the pink blossoms, Ute Peak shining.
Peaches are of the moment: fruit in the mouth, blossoms on the tree. To know a peach is to know the reason of things.
There is an orchard in our garden: plum, apricot, apple and pear. Some of these trees have produced fine fruit, for others we wait. We began planting this orchard seven years ago and still it is not done. Some years we plant a tree, some years we replant three trees. This to could be vexation but it is not. When part of an orchard bears fruit, the wait is less tiring for that which has not.
Several years ago we started the new peach orchard above our house. It is a mix of peaches, nectarines, and Ukrainian almonds. Though not yet productive the trees are becoming strong in the ground.
Last fall I began to plant an orchard of rare apple varieties that I got from a friend, Gordon Tooley. They were whip and tongue grafts with enormous root-balls requiring large hand-dug holes in the dry fall earth. Soon after the irrigation ditch stopped flowing a young buck went under the fence and mauled many of the trees. Though they all survived the winter, the constant assault of grasshoppers has left the fate of a few in doubt. There is vanity and vexation in this, but there is a price to be paid for everything, and the deer and the grasshoppers will have their due.
And then there is the new orchard, which Addie walked up from, her face stricken. Over time we cleared out the center of the old orchard, cutting out the dead, removing the stumps. One chance after another allowed the prairie dogs to move in. I thought about their potential to damage roots, to undermine the trees. I should have know that they would eat the young scions but that was my folly. No amount of wisdom can translate into knowledge. Knowledge is not wise. It is indiscriminate. But wisdom is built upon the foundation of knowledge and knowledge invests in the markets of folly. It is passionate, it is impartial, and it is blind. Take what you may, live or live not.
So I went into the orchard to see what they had done. And my heart knew rage.
The trees all have cages around them now, with stakes. The first night that the trees were caged an unusually strong summer wind blew through the canyon. The next morning found cages blown around the orchard. There are times that it is easy to believe that God not only has no sense of humor but that in fact the Almighty out-and-out hates you. Of course, in a world of war, famine, and endless tears I do not believe that the small tribulations of this little orchard are of such importance. The truth is the trees are all alive and I can only hope that they will all live long enough to face greater trials. I may have to regraft one or two of the trees next year but that is the nature of this, it is a crooked path that needs not be made straight.
Always I am aware that it is the very act of doing that is of the greatest importance, regardless of the outcome. I cannot look into the rays of the sunrise and see the future any more than the sunset captures the past. There is now, in spite of what the future might bring. And now matters.
Jude Schuenemeyer is co-owner of Let It Grow Nursery and Garden Café in Cortez, Colo.