Watering the Melba

Yesterday this photograph arrived from Ottawa, with the caption, “Watering the Melba”:

watering the melba

These two young men are very dear to me. The taller one is my son. He was two years ago when we had land cleared below our house for an orchard. He and his younger brother, then an infant (and now a mathematician), sat in their car seats in our old brown pickup truck when we went to buy apple trees from Mike Poole on Norwest Bay Road in Sechelt.

Those first trees—bought from a man who collected heritage varieties and had an apple tasting weekend at his orchard on Norwest Bay Road in West Sechelt: we tasted, then ordered a Melba, a Golden Nugget, a Cox’s Orange Pippin. The trees were tiny, and we planted them reverently, shrouding them in old gillnet salvaged from the dump.

The Melba was my favourite. I loved sitting on the big flat rock under the mature tree, gorging on its fruit. When we finally gave up on our orchard and when John arranged for someone to come and clear out the underbrush to create a firebreak as a sort of insurance against what we fear most during the long hot summers that have come with climate change, he asked the guy to work around the Melba. But maybe the guy misunderstood or maybe he didn’t care. Our Melba is gone, and so is the Cox’s Orange Pippin, though I think the Golden Nugget is still there. I don’t go down there anymore because it makes me sad though in truth it’s been ages since we’ve able to count on any fruit because of the way elk, deer, and bears have damaged the trees. Gillnet, strands of wire, strands of wire with an electric current, chicken wire—the animals found a way through.

I was curious this morning to read a bit more about Melbas. My first thought when the photograph arrived yesterday was that Ottawa might be too cold for what I think of as a delicate tree. But this is what I found out on a site devoted to heritage apples:

Melba was developed in 1898 by the Central Experiment Farm in Ottawa, Canada, and introduced commercially in 1909. Lightly sweet with a hint of tartness, Melba’s fine, white flesh and thin skin give it a pleasing crispness, and it is good for both fresh eating and cooking. Its skin is yellow to lime in color, with streaks and blushes of pink and red.

Melba’s parents are McIntosh and Liveland Raspberry. Also known as Lowland Raspberry or Red Cheek, Liveland Raspberry is an early season apple that originated in the Lithuanian province of Lievland. Now rare, it was introduced into the United States in 1883. While McIntosh contributes to Melba’s fragrant, sweet-tart flavor, Liveland Raspberry influences its early ripeness, and supplies its tender flesh and thin skin.

The younger man in the photograph is my grandson, who is two, the same age his father was when we brought home our Melba. In “Ballast”, in Euclid’s Orchard, I wrote, “I’m interested in how plants travel, how they are carried to new places, how they are botanical palimpsests, in a way. And how they hold stories,some plain and true, and some cryptic.” The first thing I thought of when I woke this morning was the Melba in Ottawa, newly planted, newly watered, with a young family to care for it (another grandson is anticipated in July) and to enjoy its beautiful fruit.