Against a cloudless blue sky and mottled green leaves, my eyes see only red apples, some redder than others and some bigger than others. I realize that may be a selfish thing, to always want the reddest, the biggest, the best. Is this the way we’re made? Hey, why not choose the best when there’s no good reason not to. The thought leaves quickly and I return to the job at hand. I’m going to pick the reddest, the biggest, the best apple. Why not? Simple to do. Climb the tree. Find the limb. Spot the apple. Reach for it. Grab it firmly. Twist the stem gently. Pull back. Apple safe in hand. Don’t drop it. Climb back down. First make a plan. Then follow the plan. I’m ready.
The aroma of the apple orchard at harvest time is pungent, kind of sweet, even intoxicating. On the ground are an assortment of fallen apples, in various stages of decomposition. Some can be rescued and used for apple cider. Some are already being eaten by worms and wasps. There’s a buzz in the air, almost like the orchard in Spring when the trees are full of blossoms and thousands of bees are hard at work gathering nectar and spreading pollen. The orchard is also home to a herd of white goats, under the watchful eye of one large male goat who stands taller than the rest and has a pair of knarled horns. Around the farm, he is simply called ‘Billy’ and not to be crossed. The mother goats and their kids are docile and have no reason to fear my presence. Billy stands on guard.
From the ground, I spot the reddest, the biggest, the best apple. My apple! I leave my position of surveillance and make my way to the tree trunk. Without a ladder, I reach up to the lowest branch, hold tight and ‘walk’ up the trunk to a point where I can get one leg over the branch. Then I gradually shift my weight until I’m sitting on the branch, one leg on each side. Every kid knows how to do this. From there, I look for the next branch closest to my apple. As I move carefully into my next position, I hear a thud, and then another, as ripe apples drop to the ground. I realize this can’t be avoided. My apple, the reddest, the biggest, the best apple is still there, hanging firmly, waiting to be picked. Maybe Farmer will come out and gather the windfalls or simply ‘falls’ as he calls them and take them home to Farmer’s Wife to make apple cider and apple sauce for next winter. I discover that my apple, spotted from the ground, is much harder to see up in the tree. Climb higher. I climb higher to get a better look. I see it now, but it is out of reach. I stretch as tall as I can, and hanging on to the trunk with one arm, stretch further with my free arm towards my apple. I have to reach even further. I stretch more. Not enough. So I inch out on to the branch, still holding on to the trunk. Inch out more. Stretch more. Just a little more. More. My fingers touch my apple. My free hand grasps the apple firmly, twists and ….. a sharp ‘crack’ breaks the silence. Thud. My world goes black. The orchard is silent and still. Time passes.
I am lying on my back. I struggle to open my eyes. I see a blue sky beyond the perimeter of the apple tree spreading above. I struggle for air, for another breath. My body won’t move. An eternity passes. I sense a new presence and open my eyes. The blue sky and apple tree have disappeared from view. I am staring into the face of a strange, hairy creature with beady eyes like a pair of cats-eye marbles. As my capacity to breath painfully returns, I smell a strange, unpleasant aroma.
Instinctively, I turn my face away. I remember being told by Farmer that billy goats have bad breath. The strange creature above me is the the billy goat. I don’t move. I can’t move. Where is my apple, the reddest, the biggest, the best apple? I close my eyes and wait for strength to return.
In the distance, I hear voices, “Are you okay?” Closer now, “Are you okay? What happened?” I can’t muster an answer. Farmer and Boy see evidence of a broken tree branch and ask no further questions. I only care about one thing and mumble, “Where is my apple?” Farmer and Boy say “Don’t worry, there are lots of apples.” I have my heart set on my apple. Finally, in weakness I whisper “My apple. I picked the the reddest, the biggest, the best apple. Where is it?’ Farmer and Boy stand silent, seeing no evidence of the apple on the broken branch or lying on the ground. “Let’s get you up to the house. Mother is serving fresh milk and homemade peanut butter cookies just out of the oven” “Okay”, I agree. Farmer takes one arm and Boy the other and I am gently raised up. First, standing shakily and then, step by step, we make our way through the gate and up the path to the farm kitchen.
Bedtime at my own house comes sooner than usual. I lie on my pillow, thinking about my adventure in the orchard. Tired, a bit sore, and thankful no bones are broken. I think about my apple, the reddest, the biggest, the best apple on the whole tree, maybe in the whole orchard. I so wanted that apple. Then it dawned on me. The goat, Billy, he ate my apple. I will never know for sure because Billy doesn’t talk. To him, probably just another windfall. But for me, I had my heart set on it. Then the thought occurs, “just being in that orchard is my windfall. Farmer and Boy care for that orchard. And I get to explore, climb and eat all the apples I want”. As I drift off, slowly falling asleep, I remember the words of Farmer, “Don’t worry, there are lots of apples.” He’s right. And tomorrow might be another day in the orchard.