My great-aunt Nina was a spinster school teacher who owned the farm along with my grandfather. One year she came up with the grand idea to plant an orchard of apple and cherry trees south of the barns. She was sure that the trees would mature and bring extra income to the farm.
The trees did mature but they required a lot of care – spraying for bugs and pruning. This took away from the daily farm chores – milking cows, harvesting the land – and the orchard was soon left to its own devices. It never did realize the profit she was expecting but as the trees aged, the orchard was the perfect place for the children who came after her to have grand adventures.
In the spring, the trees would come alive with blossoms – pink and white. The bees would soon follow and but ignored me as they flitted from blossom to blossom. The heady scent of all of the blooms was intoxicating and I would spend time just laying on my back under the trees as the wind and sun worked with the branches to create a kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. Soon the blossoms would fade and start to fall, leaving a carpet of petals to walk on. I would pretend it was an aisle I was walking down to meet my groom on the other end.
The leaves and small fruit would arrive in the summer, again changing the landscape as I climbed the trees to see how high I could get before the branches began to sway under my weight. Birds would make nests in the trees and chatter in disagreement when I came too close to glimpse a view of the nest.
Late summer and fall would bring the fruit to maturity but only brave souls would dare eat the fruit. The cherries and apples were tart and unless you wanted to spend the day in bed with a tummy ache, only one or two was all you would risk consuming. The birds and squirrels were anxious though to capitalize on the harvest and even into the winter could count on finding a missed piece of fruit here or there scattered on the ground.
The dead of winter would leave the trees bare with their gnarly branches reaching out to the overcast sky, as if they were praying for spring to come again. And spring would come again, for the cycle to start anew.
It is said in our family that the orchard was a failure, since it didn’t produce the income as was expected. But I view it as a success. It was a sanctuary on the sprawling farm – a place where all could come to find some peace and tranquility – a home and food. It certainly fed my soul and imagination as a child.