I grew up in these trees. Sprawled across an Appalachian hillside below an old country church, these trees, with their tree rings, tell the story of my life.
Fifty some odd years ago Joe put a few apple trees in the soil and a few years later the real orchard began. Daddy and Joe both worked at the copper company and had been best friends since their high school days. So every Friday and Saturday after work, those two could be found in the basement grafting apple trees while momma and Mary Jo kept us all fed. The youngins would play in the yard and poke around in the freshly tilled earth just trying to stay out from underfoot.
When trees are young you gotta keep a close eye on ’em. They’re easy to dry out but are most susceptible to critters who love to munch on the green bark around the base. And when I was a wee one, Daddy would sit in the orchard in the late hours keeping an eye out for rabbits while Momma would read me books by lantern light or pass down the tales from her father by just the starlight.
Change is inevitable, and as the trees and I both grew, there were amazing and rough seasons. I remember the year the locusts came and all but wiped out the harvest. I remember the drought, but only from the eyes of a child. As Daddy and Joe had night sweats about the fate of the crop, Joel and I simply had fun running and riding our bicycles down the bumpy rows of trees as the sprinklers cooled off two mountain kids on a hot summer evening. I ruined many a set of clothes this way, to my momma’s dismay. I remember the year of the blight and how Christmas that year was lean, but still as joyous as ever. But I also remember years of so many apples that we couldn’t sell ’em all and the deer ate well that December.
The trees continued to grow, and I along with them. I learned to drive a stick way before I was supposed to as Joel and I drove the old clunker of a pickup up and down the rows with Dad and Joe standing in the back still looking for those danged rabbits. I found God amongst these trees. Sitting up on row 26 one Sunday morning among the Jonathans. Before the church on the hill had air conditioning, they would leave the windows up to catch a breeze, and on that breeze the sounds of an Appalachian choir singing those old hymns from the purple book would drift down through the trees and pierce the inner workings of your soul. I lost God amongst these same trees…angry with the world, and simply being that omnipotent and omniscient twenty something year old…knowing everything, yet knowing nothing. And it was here, yeah, among the same older trees that I found God once again in my own way and that peace that had eluded me since the innocence of childhood.
Y’all…orchards mature, and so do the people who run them along with the children who once climbed their branches and slept in their shade. Dad and Joe have both since retired, and for a short time, the apples and their trees took a rest. But one spring evening, my wife and I were at the top of the orchard, not so far from the God tree, when it suddenly became as clear as the view of the mountains before us. This is what we are supposed to do…
And we invite you. All of you, to come see us at our little piece of heaven. These old trees hold countless stories of lives lived. Here, the only crowd is around the pie case where Amanda makes those ol’ apple pies just like Mary Jo did or perhaps the small gathering of codgers who meet to sip coffee and tell the same fish tales they’ve told for decades. It’s what you picture within your soul when you think of an apple orchard and the life that goes with it. So come on out and say hello. You’ll find us out a little country road, below the old church, at the little orchard on the hill. Here our roots run deep. Stop and stay a while at The Folk Collaborative.