Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. – Herman Hesse
Several years ago we spent an autumn season in the orchard region just outside of Melbourne. I was in between creative projects and feeling the need to do something more dynamic with my energy than sitting at the computer sending and receiving emails, so I followed an impulse to a local biodynamic farm and got a job picking apples during the last six weeks of harvest.
Under the Apple Tree
The notion was quite romantic initially… I’d spend my days wandering the orchard rows connecting with my Muse, and my evenings writing to my heart’s content. The first few days were pretty exciting – driving tractors, climbing trees, embracing the daily challenge of filling three big apple crates with 2,000 apples each before sunset. But by day four… I’m pretty sure I hated it. With bruised grooves in each shoulder from my apple pouch and carpal tunnel in my wrists from twist-pulling Fuji’s all day, I hadn’t had the energy to open my laptop once, much less to write anything of value.
I was starting to wonder if I was wasting my time – ‘valuable time’ I was telling myself, that I could be channeling into any number of potentially exciting projects. Here I was, slaving away for a fraction of my normal fee, getting pounded by the days and by the foreman, who had a way of applying subtle pressure to the pace of my picking that made me feel, well, inept. I’d be out there working my way up the rows, soaking wet with morning dew, and he’d stop by on his motorcycle, look into the bins, and just kind of shake his head. He wouldn’t say much, but what his eyes were speaking was, “Really? This is all you got?!”
By week two I was getting faster, but my restlessness was growing. I was still finding myself too exhausted to be creatively useful in the evenings (shower-food-sleep was the pattern, waking just in time to throw on my overalls and get back out there the next morning), and on top of that, I had missed several key business calls and meeting invitations while being stuck up the ladder with a pouch full of Red Delicious. In two short weeks, this 40-acre property of fertile soil and thriving harvest had gone from poetically beautiful to overbearing, overwhelming, and almost oppressive. So many apples… so many fricken apples. How would we ever get through them all?
By the end of week three, I was starting to seriously consider pulling the escape hatch… That’s when George arrived.
Transforming my Perspective
George was a tall, thin Chinese man. I don’t know how old he was but I would guess mid-fifties. He had run a successful importing business for many years but recently let it go to be with and look after his parents for a while. Somehow he found the orchard and had decided to drive 90-minutes each way across city traffic to be there picking each day. I was having a hard time dragging myself out of bed to make the ten-minute drive, so I wondered how long George would last. He was a quiet man and we didn’t talk much for the first few days, but one thing I noticed straight away – which admittedly gave me some comfort at the time – was that he was a much slower picker than me. I was about half as fast as the foreman, and George… well George was about half as fast as me. Within a few days, the silent glares I’d been receiving from the foreman, started manifesting into snide remarks in George’s direction.
But the days were getting shorter and they needed the help, so as a couple of slow, misfit pickers, we were partnered up to work the same section of the orchard each day, sharing the harvest. Knowing that I would now have to pick even faster in order to make up for George if we were going to make our daily quota (a concept that George didn’t seem to understand) I found myself getting stressed and almost a bit resentful of my new partner. But a few days into our partnership, during our first lunch together, all of this changed.
After searching for a spot of high ground to check my phone messages, I joined George on the edge of an apple crate where he was eating a big chunk of homemade bread. We were well behind schedule, so I was eating fast and starting to do the math in my head of how many chest pouches would be needed to fill the next crate when I heard George bite into a crispy Pink Lady and take a deep sighing breath. “This is the best job ever,” he said, with the sincerity of a child. “Fresh air, fresh apples, green grass, blue sky… Best job ever.”
Finding a Flow
I couldn’t see his eyes (in fact I’m not sure if I ever saw his eyes on the other side of his gold-framed, Top Gun style shades), but I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was a tear hovering there. I looked at him for a long moment, taking in what he said and I realized that while we were both there doing the exact same work together, George was having a totally different experience to me. I was stressing out, picking as fast as I could, going home exhausted and frustrated, feeling like I should be doing something else… and he was driving three hours a day, picking half the amount of apples and experiencing moments of enlightened rapture. I was definitely missing something.
After lunch I watched George picking for a while… gently handling each apple, looking at it for a moment or two before he placed it in his pouch and reaching for the next. He might have been pissing the foreman off, but he was doing something right. We finished the day at sunset and I remember glancing back at George just leaning back, smelling the air as I drove the tractor back up the hill.
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself. – William Blake
The next morning was wet and raining so most of the team took the day off. George had made the trip across town unknowingly and I didn’t have the heart to abandon him, so I stuck around to help. I decided to leave my phone – and as many thoughts as possible – in the car for the day, and for once really give myself a chance to BE at the orchard. Almost instantly, the day began to feel a bit different. The apples seemed to come off a little easier and my steps through the long, wet grass just seemed to be lighter. Despite the rain, it felt good to be there, surrounded by all this life and growth and energy in full fruition. I began to feel inspired by each tree’s ability to give forth so many ripe creations (hundreds of apples and thousands of seeds!), and how every single apple had the capacity to give birth to a whole new family of apple-giving trees. What a model for sustainable living! I wasn’t rushing, I wasn’t forcing anything, I wasn’t counting… but somehow the pouches and buckets were filling.
Matching your nature with Nature
Midway through the morning, it started bucketing down with rain. Really hard. I ducked under a mature Granny Smith, whose branches were so laden with wet fruit that the canopy hung around me like a giant umbrella. I continued picking, lightening the load of her limbs, moving into the very center. As I stretched out around her trunk to reach a stray apple on the other side, suddenly a strange feeling came over my body. The air seemed to get a bit thicker and I felt this sort of calm wash through me that I hadn’t felt for a very long time. I took a deep breath of apple-tree-air and looked up to realize that the limbs of this tree were all wrapped around me like a giant, tree arm hug. And with my chest against the trunk, I swear I could feel her pulse. I glanced around sheepishly to make sure the foreman wasn’t coming… and then I slid my arms fully around and hugged her right back. Several seconds (maybe minutes) passed. Not a single raindrop hit me. My face was wet with tears.
Only then did I truly arrive in the orchard, and from that day forward, I cherished my time with these trees.
The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe. To match your nature with Nature. – Joseph Campbell
Some days George and I made our daily quota, some days we didn’t. He never really understood what it meant, and I no longer really cared. Strangely as I relaxed, so did the foreman. He stopped counting apples in the bin and I stopped counting my phone messages. As luck would have it, we finished the picking season just before the first frost… right on time. And just a few days after our final day of picking, my next writing project began. Right on time.
The last time I saw George he was talking about getting a job on an oil rig for a few months so he could be out in the ocean. He had heard it was good pay but difficult work with tough crews. I can just imagine him out there amongst a group of sea-weathered oil riggers, tearing off a piece of his homemade bread, taking a deep breath of clean ocean air. “Ah. Best job ever.”
What a beautiful story; I could even smell the apples, feel the trees and the rain!
So inspiring, just what I needed it. Thank you :). Natalia
Thank you for this touching story reminding us to slow down and appreciate precious moments. Beautifully written!
This is one of those stories that brings you back to earth. It’s got a magic to it that rings true – not showy, spectacular magic but subtle, which we need to tune into to save ourselves from the madness of the modern world.
It is really inspiring and reminds me that we need to value each time mother nature gives us.
truly inspirational read…. i’m humbled…wondering what my purpose of coming in this journey of life is and where lies Happiness !! Certainly not in the city life
A wonderful story reminding us how important , precious and nurturing nature can be if only we take the time to notice 💕
A great reminder to cherish nature. Enough of rushing thru the precious life.
I have been a Tree Hugger for many years, can’t explain why, I believe trees give so much and I want them to know they are loved.
Beautiful story and so well told. Thank you!
This story had it all. The power and love coming from nature and how a tender heart can have such a transforming effect on us. I needed to read this piece this morning.
Beautifully written, both in grammar and content. A poetic story that encapsulates the spirit of Oneness with the Universe.
Beautiful! Thank you. A wonderful reminder that being present in each moment is a gift we can give ourselves, wherever we are.
Oh I love this story and the learning and eventual acceptance of nature’s bounty here. How moving and we all need a George in our life who teaches us to savour and enjoy small things. Love how he took his new stage of life as a chance to explore. Beautiful
What a beautiful story of transformation-first from a frantic hurry to “get the work done” to a leisurely meditation on the life giving force of the apple trees. The descriptions of the trees were so gentle and caring, I could feel the love he had for them through the page. Hugging the tree sounded like he become one with it! Reminds me of a childhood story about an apple tree..
Wonderful experience to have been given the alertness to experience. Nature is a teacher by all means. I have experience many such experiences and feel grateful every time. I spent many hours this spring observing the budding of trees. I started walking, searching for different trees and took amazing pictures in the process. I got completely lost in the beauty that I was experiencing. To be present to witness the process of creation filled me up – more than any amount of meditation could do! “Ah best experience ever!”
A moving story! Thank you for sharing the importance of not comparing ourselves with others and their abilities and to seek the joy from within through our own connection with nature and her creation and to be mindful of our thoughts!
Wonderful article! It helps me to be mindful again 🙂 Thanks!
Love reading articles like this. Embracing nature is one of the best way to uplift your spirit(meditatioin too btw). I love waking up early and take a slow walk in a garden-without motive and just to feel the air,the grass and the nature itself.
Absolutely loved reading this beautiful article. Gratitude, mindfulness and connectedness. A lovely reminder
I am touched because I can play a visual in my own head m of the story.
A lovely article thankyou. I believe trees do relate to us however much we may not understand how. I still mourn the mother gum tree … so tall and strong who sheltered my pond and created a
Micro climate in the hot summer to give a home to tiny ghekoes and catterpillars and frogs and ants …. and when I couldn’t go anywhere during cancer treatment , she gave me everything I needed to find peace and comfort under her beautiful kind and leafy canopy. I had to move and I miss her still. Xxxx
It was Einstein (wasn’t it?) who proved that Time Is Money. It’s easy to appreciate Nature when you take time out to work slow and think about it…The real trick is to work as hard & as fast as necessary to make a good living and still reman cognizant & appreciative of the wonders around you. Work hard and relax hard, both at the same time.
BTW- the tree didn’t care about the hug one way or the other. In fact, most trees don’t want you walking on their roots. We need to respect their wishes.