With or Without Us

With or Without Us
Greener pastures

Friday, 25 November

If you’ve read this blog even spottily, you will know that since we bought our house in the Perche in 2019, we’ve altered just about everything, inside and out. Even our fields have changed both farmers and farming practices, as we shifted from 'conventional' (with chemicals) to organic. But there’s one patch that we’ve barely touched: the orchard, where fruit trees abound.

At the beginning, it was largely hidden from view by a massive thuja hedge that ran its length. By felling the monster, we gave the orchard - the whole place, in fact - space to breathe. It now greets the visitor upon arrival, gently prefaces the vista of the countryside from the front of the house and is generally better integrated into life at Deux Champs.

Learning centre

The fruit trees were planted by our predecessors, Corinne and Frédéric, who thoughtfully left us a plan that included the ripening dates of each specimen, a gauge which sadly, in our climately changing world, no longer provides much guidance.

Best by dates have expired

There’s cherry, plum and pear, even a small peach tree and an ancient quince that stopped producing after our first year (a gardening person told me it didn't like all the disruption and having its undergrowth cut away).

Dine on me

The cherries ripen first, but the trees are tall and much of the fruit beyond my reach, even with the big ladder. The birds also love them, so once ripe, they're here today, gone tomorrow.

Snatched from the beaks of birds

Plums come next...

More on the way

...or used to. Two springs of an eerily warm March followed by cruel April frosts killed the buds and resulted in drastically diminished returns. Ditto for the pears, of which there have been none since 2020.

A pair of pears, no more

But apple trees (highlighted in pink on the plan) predominate. To spare you the count: there are 24 of them, and almost as many varieties. Either they are trying to thank us for removing the thuja or they love climate change because unlike their brethren, les pommiers have thrived.  

Just a taste

Apples have been cultivated in the Perche since the 16th century, mostly for the production of alcoholic cider, which in 2020 earned its own Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée label (protected designation of origin - think Bordeaux and Burgundy wine, Comté and Camembert de Normandie cheeses). Perche cider even has a website. Because we are not the only ones in the area to have industrial levels of production, there’s an association near us, La Reinette Verte, where you can bring your apples and bottles, and they’ll turn it into juice for you.

Since we do not have either a trailer for transport or an overwhelming love of apple juice (not to mention the time and energy to manage all that fruit), some of the Reinette Verte members came one afternoon in October with buckets, tarps and carts to pick apples and haul them away.

Sad to say, they hardly made a dent. Neither have the badgers, or Tasha, who's had her fair share. So I kept picking and making crumbles and compôte, even apple jam. But I'm no match for nature unbound. To abridge Robert Frost: "I am done with apple-picking now....For I have had too much/...I am overtired/Of the great harvest I myself desired." (from his poem "After Apple-Picking")


Which has led to a lot of rotting apples and the following exchange:

Me: “I can’t pick another apple, but I can't stand seeing all this fruit go to waste. When you think about all the people in the world who don't have enough to eat."

David: "But the trees are not producing the fruit for us. They're just doing their apple tree thing, regardless of whether we are here. Or not."

On one level, his philosophical approach is comforting. Solipsistic beings that we are, we tend to think nature exists for our purposes and ours alone, when in fact she won't care if, say, we do manage to derail the planet completely. From another angle, it was the eating of an apple that got us into such trouble in the first place.

But neither metaphysics nor religion can alter the facts: many of our trees are suffering, while others are producing more than we can use. Not unlike their human counterparts and another sign, should we need it, that things are out of whack.


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