Betwixt the Blossom and the Bough   


A thought-provoking column from ALEX BARR

Image by Filmbetrachter from Pixabay

 

We have a holiday let near Letterston. Once a week I recycle the rubbish left by our visitors. The food waste shocks me. Potato peel and banana skins are fine, but half loaves of sliced bread, whole portions of rice, unopened packets of prawns…? Don’t they realise how much food is wasted on our planet? That it’s about a third of all the food produced? OK, our visitors’ bread, rice and prawns go in the compost bin along with the peel, to be broken down entropy-wise, but it’s such a misuse of the energy of planting, growing and harvesting that works against entrop

My hatred of food waste comes to a head each September. I become obsessed with fruit. Our garden here in Fishguard gives us plums, raspberries and blackcurrants, and what we can’t eat right away we freeze, but we run out of freezer space just when the apples ripen. I’m always determined not one must go amiss. They are somehow sacred. Why else would deliberately felling an apple tree be punishable by death in ancient Irish law? Why else would a section through an apple reveal a magic pentacle?

 

I was born in Manchester and raised in a dull industrial suburb. In the cul-de-sac where we lived there were no kids of my own age. When I was eight my life changed dramatically. We moved to a neighbourhood in Cheshire full of flowering trees and lush gardens with fat hedges. The boy next door was my age and we soon made friends.

His back garden was neglected and overgrown. Much of it had been an orchard, and a ruined brick outhouse with just three walls was heaped with rotting apples. We shovelled them up for ammunition in our war games. That clinging sweet-sour odour is like no other. If I smell it on an apple I failed to use in time, it takes me back to my carefree childhood. It also takes me back to life on a smallholding.

Rosemarie and I took early retirement and moved from Manchester to a smallholding near Letterson. Our first project was to fence off part of a field and plant an orchard. The ground was the side of a valley, and sloped quite steeply. We planted early-fruiting trees lowest, late-fruiting highest, from James Grieve and Golden Noble up to Egremont Russet and Fiesta.

Ah, James Grieve! The apples were delicious, always catching us by surprise in late August, dropping into the long grass before we could eat them all. We tried wrapping them in newspaper and storing them in those nice low wooden boxes imported vegetables arrive in, but James Grieve don’t keep well. We bottled some (with mixed results, it turned out later), but I was almost in tears at the waste as I searched in the overgrown sward for windfalls, competing with wasps, slugs and woodlice, even cutting off the good parts of ones half-rotted.

I must have been aware of the significance of apples, credited in Celtic lore with the power of healing and rebirth, and in Norse lore with long life, wisdom, and love. I remembered, with a frisson of pleasure and guilt, the tapestry Pomona by William Morris in the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, which bears the words:

I am the ancient Apple-Queen,

As once I was so am I now,

For everyone a hope unseen

Betwixt the blossom and the bough.

By October my battle to save the James Grieve was over. Sad brown collapsing spheres like the ones when I was eight, and skins hollowed out by wasps, were all that remained. The other trees cropped much less heavily and we could keep up with their offerings, as well as our plums and damsons. Each summer I resolved to keep the grass short around the trees, but it was awkward work with a ride-on mower, and I hated strimming. Besides, we were growing too old to spend so much of our limited energy.

When we sold the smallholding we kept the holiday cottage that was part of it. We moved to Fishguard, inheriting two apple trees of unknown varieties, with heavy crops. Too heavy – the memory of waste in our orchard haunts me. Once again I keep back the undamaged fruit to wrap in newspaper. I store them in our toolshed in the same boxes as before, with JAMES GRIEVE and GOLDEN NOBLE still visible in faded marker.

I hope they keep. The damaged ones we will try to eat promptly (especially with cheese!) or use in a crumble. Some will fall before we can pick them, into the almost-inaccessible region behind the raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes we planted. I no longer have the energy to hunt for them. I abandon them for the nourishment of my fellow creatures, and try not to think about them.

 

Alex Barr’s non-fiction has appeared recently in Griffith Review, The Blue Nib and Sarasvati, and less recently in New Scientist. His short fiction collection My Life With Eva is published by Parthian, and, for children, Take a Look at Me-e-e! by Pont Books. His recent fiction has appeared in Tears in the Fence, The Lampeter Review, the Interpreter’s House, and The Last Line Journal, and is online at mironline.org, Litro magazine, Samyukta fiction, Reflex Press, and feedlitmag.com.

You can find outmore about Alex at :  alexmcclurebarr.blogspot.com, and barrsbooks.bigcartel.com  

Kitty Parsons

Kitty knows that she will always be an incomer, but this is to be her sixth summers. The wet and grey days of winters have not diminished her love of Pembrokeshire, but she is always grateful for the golden light of spring and summer. Her love of the sea sustains her even through the darkest of days and she can often be found at high tide bobbing about in Fishguard harbour at high tide, often with seals in attendance. When not freezing in water she is usually at her computer. She says" Pembrokeshire.online has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

You may also like...