Hello from North Haven!
By the light of a pink and purple sunset, the Hebrew calendar ticked over last night from one year to the next. My husband, daughter and I invited a few other families – none of them Jewish – to share the evening with us, and we laughed as the kids took out all the toys and gorged on apple slices dipped in honey.
The apples came from a Cortland tree in our front yard. Seven years ago, after my husband and I had been on the island for six years and in our house for four, I bought it from Fedco for Bill’s Christmas present as a tiny whip, with a Honeycrisp tree to go with it and cross pollinate. Planting fruit trees seemed like a bold move, one that said we’re here to stay. We hadn’t even gotten engaged yet, but we were making a commitment to each other and to the island we’d grown to think of as our home. When the whips arrived in the mail that spring, we scrupulously followed the planting directions and lavished them with nutrients.
Apple tree whips take about five years to become productive. We watched the whips branch out, get leafier, and stretch taller than me and then taller than Bill. Right on cue, when Penrose was a year old, the Cortland produced a few fragrant, blush-pink blossoms. The Honeycrisp tree remained green. We got nervous about the Cortland not having any pollen with which to cross pollinate, so after some research we cut a bouquet of crabapple blooms and put them in a jar under the tree. We were rewarded with a few small apples that fall, enough to make us excited for the years to come.
Last year’s spring drought yielded just a few flowers, and only two apples. This year’s wetter spring left the tree pink and buzzing with bees, whom we helped along with another crabapple bouquet, since the Honeycrisp still seems content to be leaves only. We checked the Cortland regularly as the flowers faded and apples swelled. We wiped off baby tent caterpillars and sprayed Deer-Off. A few windfalls turned into snacks, although they were overly tart and enjoyed mainly by the dog.
Yesterday I harvested every apple left on the tree. Some were nearly pristine, with unblemished skin, rosy and green by hemisphere. Others had been infested by some sort of worm, leaving one side pitted and brown or black. I put them all in a bowl held by my daughter, now three, who carried it almost all the way to the house. It was heavy, filled with 15 or 20 apples, our biggest harvest ever.
I chose the least aesthetically pleasing apples to slice and be eaten that night with honey, and put the prettier ones in the fruit bowl on the kitchen table. As I carved away the brown spots and insect bites, I thought about what I wanted to leave behind and take with me into the new year. The Jewish New Year, rather than a time of resolutions, is a time to leave behind the sins of the past year. Some perform the ritual of tashlich, casting bread into the water to represent the casting off of sin. (It’s apparently not very good for waterfowl though!) Could I carve away fear and anxiety, and take with me courage and calm? Could I shed complaining and bring forward action?
Time will tell. But like the pile of apple slices dipped in honey, free from their insect-born blemishes, bruises and holes, I hope I – and you all – have a very sweet new year.