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Don’t Chop Down the Tree Before It Blossoms

Have patience. It will bear fruit.



Close up of pink apple blossoms

Several years ago I researched the best apple trees to plant in our backyard.

Agonized — not quite agonized — over them.

Bare-root or potted? Self-pollinators or cross?

After referencing and cross-referencing and chatting with fruit tree ‘experts’ all over southern Ontario, I decided on two different apple trees (cross pollinators) and a self-pollinating Montmencery cherry tree. Bare root ones, from an organic gardener about an hour away.

I knew they would take 5–7 years to bear fruit which was fine, we weren’t planning on going anywhere.

About four years in, our cherry tree began to blossom beautifully. We got a few handfuls of tart cherries that year, now we get a few bucketfuls. Good job, cherry tree!

But those apple trees? Nada. Deer were munching on the lower branches, devouring limbs and leaves. There was never a bud to be found. For some reason, the cherry tree was never on the menu for our elegant furry friends.

And there were bugs. Nothing I did could make those two trees flourish. So after several years, they got neglected. The cherry tree thrived, the apple trees were just not working out.

Cut ’em down, I told my husband with a cutthroat gesture. They’re not producing anything and they don’t look aesthetically pleasing enough. So shallow am I. This is a story about patience.


 

I homeschooled our kids, one right through grade 12, and the other two through grade ten. The oldest is a successful singer/songwriter. Our middle is in design school and loving every minute and the youngest is working in the trades and preparing to take an intensive firefighting program this winter. They’re kinda great.

In early 2020, homeschooling was winding down for me since our son would be going to school in the fall. I wanted to start giving some of my time away, now that I had more of it. Just before COVID side-swiped us all that March, I‘d gotten in touch with a women’s prison in the area to ask about helping out with parenting courses, teaching literacy, or anything else that might be helpful for the inmates’. I wanted to spend some time with women who likely feel forgotten.

I was so excited about it. I believe in second chances, an third and fourth ones, especially for those who often did not get the greatest start in life.

Just as we were co-ordinating my orientation and I was filling out the paperwork for my police check, everything started to shut down — the NBA, the restaurants, the schools, the prison volunteer programs.

I checked in with the volunteer coordinator from time to time, knowing full well that the programs at the jail were going to be the last thing to re-open once the pandemic nightmare was over.

This particular jail had suffered the worst COVID outbreak in any Ontario prison system. It was a long, lonely time for the inmates who were stuck in their cells.

Finally, in June of 2022, an email arrived from the coordinator. They were planning an orientation the next month and could I attend? There was a ‘sigh of relief’ tone to the email — the prisoners were finally going to be able to get out of their cells and get back to working on their high school diplomas and learning how to care for their children once they were released.

As life would have it, I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was scheduled to have a mastectomy right around the time of the orientation. And then radiation, possibly chemo. Too many unknowns to plan anything.

So, no, I wouldn’t be able to make the orientation.

In late December, I’d finished radiation and thankfully would not need chemo. I got in touch with the jail again to let them know I was raring to go. I didn’t hear back. A few weeks later I called again and left another message. This happened a bunch of times until I just let it drop. Three years had gone by and now, it seemed like it just wasn’t meant to be.

Several months later, listening to a podcast, the host was encouraging the idea of ‘one more time’. I don’t remember his name. But the premise was to just try that ‘thing’ one more time and see where it gets you. Don’t give up on something that is important to you.

I thought about volunteering at the jail. Did I still want to do it? Yes, I really did. I decided to call one more time.

My call was picked up right away. Of course it was. A new co-ordinator had been hired, the reason for the lack of communication from their end.

After many conversations, I was asked if I would be able to create a program to facilitate. I have my B. Ed, I’d homeschooled for many years and led many classes with all age groups but I’ve never done anything quite like this.

But I said yes. How about a creative writing class? The women were looking for something they could do in their own time during the week. A course like this sounded like a great fit.

This course will start in the next couple of weeks. I’m elated and terrified. Well, not terrified. Unsure. But still hopeful.

Three and a half years have gone by. The time is ripe for picking. I'll update you soon, my orientation is next Tuesday.

Who would have thought that rather than plugging into a program that was already in place I’d be writing one from scratch?

What a privilege.


 

Back to my fruit trees.

They were scheduled for the chopping block.

After a week away with my daughters in May, we came home to the cherry tree in full fragrant blossom. Oh, fruit trees in the spring, we wait for those delicate white flowers all winter long.

My husband and I stood gazing at the tree. Then I moved my gaze to the left, where one of the dismal, lanky apple trees stood.

As I began to plan its demise, still looking up at it, I saw something pale pink among the apple tree's leaves.

I squinted.

Pink blossoms! There were pink blossoms about to burst all over that good-for-nothing tree! Might we get one or two apples this season? I couldn’t believe it. Seven years. It took seven years!

(The question of how our apple tree was pollinated has been raised. An apple tree in an adjoining property that we don‘t know about? No idea.)

No joke, I walked straight up to that once-scorned tree, wrapped my hands around its life-giving trunk, and apologized for even considering what I had been considering.

And at this very moment, at the very tip-top of that tree, hang three of the most luscious apples you‘ve ever seen.

The deer ate the rest of them. Eye roll. But the apples I longed for are here. Each bite will be treasured.

Those pink flowers also saved the life of the other apple tree. Maybe its time is still coming.

I’ll wait with more patience than I had for its friend.

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