I wrote about the stray apple in my essay “Euclid’s Orchard” and yesterday John picked its small crop because there’s a bear around right now (yesterday it broke a large limb of the huge crabapple tree) and we don’t want it climbing onto our deck to get at the apples. And I wish I could say the apples taste good. They don’t. But they are beautiful (and kind of miraculous) and maybe that’s enough.
And now a stray. Just beyond the sliding doors that lead from our kitchen to the sundeck, coming up from rocky ground, is a small tree that has revealed itself to be an apple. Not a Pacific crabapple—our native Malus (or sometimes Pyrus) fusca—which is what I thought it was when I finally recognized its leaves and bark. I left it to grow up beyond the pink rambling rose tangled among the deck railings so we could enjoy its blossoms in spring. Last year it had fruit, and they weren’t crabs but fairly large green apples: there were four of them and when it seemed they might be ripe, when they came easily off the branch when twisted a little, I picked one to try it. Not delicious, not even remotely. I think now of Euclid: “The whole is greater than the part.” A tree’s beauty is more than the taste of its fruit. But the question of course is how the tree got there. I know that apples don’t come true from seed. Blossom from a Merton Beauty, say, is pollinated by an insect bearing reciprocal pollen from another apple—here, it would be a crabapple—and although the resulting apples would be true to their tree, their seeds would be the children of the Merton Beauty and the crabapple. One in ten thousand of those seeds might produce something worth eating. Who are the parents of this stray apple tree? It started growing before the Merton Beauty began its small production of fruit. Did this tree sprout from a seed spit over the side of the deck or excreted by birds or even seeds from the compost into which I regularly deposited cores and peelings from apples given us by friends in autumn? Belle of Boskoops from Joe and Solveigh for instance which make delectable fall desserts and cook up into beautiful chutney. Or else a seed from the few rotten apples from the bottom of a box bought from the Hilltop Farm in Spences Bridge, their flavour so intense you could taste dry air, the Thompson River, the minerals drawn up from the soil, faintly redolent of Artemesia frigida. This stray is all the more wonderful for its mysterious provenance, its unknown parents, and its uncertain future, for it grows out of a rock cleft, on a dry western slope.