Every now and then, I seem to get on a theme-train. Storms. Surprises. Christmas. Right now? Well, I guess it’s…Magic.
Last week’s post segued from Christmas into Magic with the help of a magic jug of milk. If that just threw you for a loop, you might want to stop, go back and read the previous blog post. This week, it’s all about a magic apple.
As much as I like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Dopey made me laugh the most, but Grumpy was my favorite), this isn’t about that apple. That apple might unequivocally be called THE magic apple. In fact, it might require capitalization and italics: The Magic Apple. For this bit of rambling, though, we’re talking about a magic apple. No caps or italics required.
Maybe we need to talk definitions. “Magic Apples”. I think almost everyone who reads this is gonna know what an apple is. If not, you really need to get out more. You’re missing out on one of the best natural snacks ever and the thought of one of my readers not knowing what an apple is… Well, it’s actually pretty distressing, so let’s move along.
Magic, though— how would you define that? Maybe something along the line of “an item or occurrence that defies logical explanation”? I could look up Merriam-Webster’s definition, but for me that’s like being the mouse who’s been given a cookie! Feel free to look it up, though… Let me know if I’m close.
Now, summer in Texas is hot. Summer in central Texas is very hot. Summer in Aggieland can be, simply put, vicious. This past summer (2021) wasn’t so bad, comparatively speaking. But for about 4 weeks, it fully lived up to its awful reputation.
When I first moved to Aggieland, I didn’t give a thought about the climate of my new home. We bought a house and I wanted to plant heirloom apple trees. For those of you a bit… wiser… than me, apple trees don’t do so well in the heat. Pecans, yes. Peaches, sure. But, apples? But, being the idealistic, optimistic and stubborn creature that I am, I bought and planted eight different heirloom apple varieties. Spaced them out in a circle so that when full-grown, they’d make a shady canopy for my middle daughter to read under.
I ran a 100-foot hose out and watered them on a regular basis. The first year, we shouldn’t have had any apples, but we actually had a few. The second year, a few more. The third year— a bunch! Especially the Irish Pippin and the White Pearmain. They are always a little on the small side, but I figure that’s just the price I’ll pay, having them this far south.
The trees all grew— a couple less than the others, but none of them really took off that much. I had a brilliant idea: put a cheap garden hose in a circle around them, use a hammer and nail to punch a hole in the hose at the base of each tree, close off the end of the hose and turn on the water. Voilá! No more running back and forth to move the hose from tree to tree! And it worked! Did you know if you water trees, they’ll grow more?
The danger with a hose around trees is that there is also grass around the trees. And grass needs to be mown, on occasion. Mowers and rubber hoses don’t go well together. Sometimes the mower chops the hose into pieces. Large pieces. Small pieces. And sometimes a hose will get back at the mower by wrapping itself around and through the blades in a way that a circus contortionist would envy. The mower winning makes my man cuss. The hose winning? Wife, kids and dogs scatter like dandelion fluff in a sixty-mile-an-hour wind!
There’s another…challenge… my trees have to face: birds. Now, my trees and I like birds. Chickadees, sparrows, cardinals, yellow-throated somethings. Maybe even blue jays— though they’re about the meanest birds I know. And we love our harriers— when the sunlight hits them just right, they look like they came straight out of the hands of Midas. Unfortunately, we also have mockingbirds.
The mockingbird is the state bird of Texas. They’re also the biggest nuisance with wings that I’ve ever met. And. They. Like. Apples. They’re a pest in my garden (a tale for another time) but they destroy my apples. They start checking just at that moment when the apple is starting to turn, then they wait. And watch. Then…game on!
The little buggers rarely eat an entire apple. If they did, I might be willing to share. A little. But, no— they take a good bite and then move on to mar each and every apple they can find. And that one good bite seems to put each apple into a state of shock from which few recover. I hate mockingbirds.
My response has been to find ways of keeping the birds out of the trees. First I tried a trick I saw used by farmers in Okinawa. I tied old computer discs to tree branches with fishing line. They move and swirl and glitter with the breeze. It worked. For about four days. When I saw a mockingbird swinging gently in the breeze next to one of the discs, I knew that wasn’t the answer.
Next I bought a length of garden netting and wrapped the trees in it. The experience was rather like wrapping a pickup in plastic wrap. It doesn’t work unless you overlap, and the stuff tends to tangle up on itself. (I know both from experience and the pickup story would be good for another time, too.) The good thing about the garden netting— it would be reusable. Except it wasn’t. By the time you got it off the trees, the places where limbs had grown through made big ol’ holes and the nets— well, as mentioned before— they tended to tangle on themselves.
Finally, I saw them. TREE NETS! Thirty-by-thirty-foot nets made especially to keep birds out of trees. Perfect. My trees were less than 15 feet tall, so the size sounded good. Unfolding them was a little tricky, but manageable. Getting them over the trees was a bit more of a challenge, but with a couple of step ladders, doable. The fact that only a few of the trees were small enough for the nets to reach the ground didn’t stop our quest to outmaneuver the birds— we just tied the corners under the limbs of the taller trees and used twist-ties to close any gaps. We had a good crop that year. Actually got to taste apples from each of the trees.
This last year, though… the apple harvest didn’t go very well. If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know how crazy-busy we were with weddings and graduations. So, by the time wedding number one was over in April, we’d already missed our chance to enclose the trees. And I was so busy that the trees were the least of my worries. The poor things were lucky if they got watered. Which wasn’t that bad— rain fell every-so-often and the temperatures were in the upper 80’s- low 90’s. Not bad. Until the first of August.
When the heat struck, it did so viciously. Everything felt it— from the huge oaks to the herbs in the shade. It was sad. I did water then, but it was a losing battle. Dozens and dozens of promising apples that had thrived despite my neglect now shriveled into sad little balls despite my frantic care. Well, I thought, at least we hadn’t wasted our time with the nets.
Flash-forward to January, 2022. Two weddings, two graduations, milestone birthday and anniversary celebrations over and done. I’ve rested up, enjoyed my post-Christmas Christmas, recycled the magic milk jug, and resumed my part-time playtime at the toy store.
One evening, bringing my daughter home from swimming, I pulled up in the driveway. Got out. Closed the door. Turned toward the house. And then a small flash of red caught my eye. I looked back toward the apple trees. Yes, there was definitely something reddish out there. I peered more closely. A small bunch of dying leaves? I began picking my way through the soggy grass, closer. Closer. Oh, my.
It was an apple. On my favorite tree— one that didn’t usually produce more than a small handful each year. And there was not one, but two! One was as small as an apricot, but the other was decent-sized. Both were a rich red and while the smaller one had the standard bird-pecking (which was likely why it was smaller), the other was absolutely perfect. Size, shape, color— perfect!
I picked both apples and squelched my way across the yard to the pavement, then wet-sneaker-squeaked my way along the sidewalk to the front door. Kicking off the soaked shoes, I turned and stood in the doorway of my husband’s office. He eventually noticed me standing there with what had to be a rather idiotic grin on my face. All I had to do was lift up the apples and he understood.
As far as I can figure, the intense heat in August had so shocked the trees that when cooler temperatures arrived, they decided to celebrate by showing a few blossoms out, again. That, or the trees were so stunned that they’d simply lost their minds. Either way, while nothing lasted on any of the other trees, my Rouge d’Automne had managed to protect those two long enough to ripen. I’m guessing that the smaller apple had been so tart that when the mockingbird (and it had to be a mockingbird— all the other birds had migrated) took a bite, it was so bad that he didn’t even bother tasting the second apple. His loss.
The next day, I took both apples with me to work— to show off and eat. When my lunch break came, I took a bite of the smaller apple. It was awful. Sour and bitter. Well, that’s what you get when a bird goes first. After spitting out the bite in my mouth, I threw away the rest of the little apple. I took a breath and bit into the larger apple. That one tasted just like it should. Sweet, crisp and juicy. Perfect. Magical.
I think God knew I needed that Magic Jug of Milk and then gave me a Magic Apple as a bonus. Maybe to tell me to start paying better attention to the details. Maybe to teach me that magical surprises come in many different forms. Or maybe that Magic Apple was just a gift. A sweet, crispy, juicy gift for no reason at all. Some gifts are like that— an item or occurrence that defies logical explanation. Magic. Just sayin’…