Time Frames

I was walking in the orchard last week when I noticed some apples. They were on a tree that had never borne before and they were pale green shading to yellow as they ripened.

Nursery catalogs are surprisingly coy about the time it takes a tree to produce fruit. Semi-dwarf trees will produce fruit sooner than a full size tree and dwarf trees will produce fruit even sooner – but how soon? Not soon enough to enable me to remember what tree it was I had planted. The nursery companies always attach a plastic label that has the nursery name stamped in bold and indelible letters on one side and the name of the variety written with a marking pen on the other. The marking pens are not indelible; the variety names wear off in a year or two. Recently they’ve begun stamping the variety on in indelible ink and I’m grateful, but that’s no help with my older trees.

I went to look at my file of orders placed. The first two trees in the orchard were ordered 30 years ago and one of those trees has been my best producer for a long time. The other died last year. The yellow apples seem to be Lodi, an apple that ripens in late July or early August, way ahead of most others. I planted that tree – semi-dwarf – eleven years ago. No wonder I’d forgotten about it. I have other trees, even older, that still haven’t produced anything. I hope I can still identify them when they do.

I remember also a conversation I had recently with our neighbor, a professional forester. I asked him what he thought might be the problem with my oldest chestnut tree. It had produced a few more chestnuts every year for five or six years now. Last year was a banner year with maybe two or three dozen nuts. But I found literally hundreds of tiny nuts that never matured. What did he think might be the problem. “Maybe the tree just isn’t mature enough to ripen them all,” he suggested. After thirty years? Yes; we’re talking trees, not people. (Actually there are people not very mature after thirty years also.) I have three walnut trees planted thirty years ago that have yet to produce a single nut.

I planted a copper beech when we first bought this property. Somewhere I read that they live for five or six centuries so I thought I should get it started. On line, I learn that they live “only” 100 to 150 years and start flowering after 30 to 80 years. Mine might start flowering next year – or not.

We’re talking time frame. If I don’t get a good crop of green peas this year, there’s always next year. If it seems that I’ve put a nut tree in the wrong place or that I’d rather have a different kind, it’s not that simple. Some things take more time than others.

I wonder whether we lose certain perspective when everyone grows up in a city and makes dinner in the microwave. I grew up in a day when oatmeal was made in a double boiler and cooked overnight on the stove.

I’m thinking about the way we attempt to solve the energy crisis by opening up more areas to drilling, solve mid-eastern tensions by imposing democracy on Iraq, fight the war on terror by overthrowing constitutional traditions two centuries old.

I hope I live long enough to harvest walnuts from my trees. I pray for leadership that understands the human time frame.

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