Thursday, September 06, 2007

make believe: gone apple pickin'

So we’re in that peculiar post-summer summer season unique to the Bay Area. The fog that I love so much has officially given the game over to that Satanic, sticky, will-wilting heat that refuses to abate, the swelter that clings even to my arms as I scrabble for water bottles and any show of climatic temperance.

(An aside: come to think of it, this heat presents me with an ideal solution for a recent problem. My father's just visited me and I think the shirt I wore to the A's game--it read "New Jersey: Only the Strong Survive"--really bummed him out; he's got big pride of place (he, by the way, wore his DiMaggio jersey and Yanks hat). So it seems only appropriate that I cover the "New Jersey" in masking tape and write "California" in its place. Loverly.)

... Anyway, I for one—so that we’re clear on this—object to this damned heat. Stow me away in an Alpine cabin, shake snow from the eaves just over my windowsill, ply me with hot cider and a few decent books, and I am yours forever. That’s the dream. The reality: I suffer and sweat and snooze my solitary way through these spirit-dousing, Mojavian high temps as I do every ding dang late San Francisco summer. (Would that that wintry-haired old Twain really had said, and really would have been right in saying, that "the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.")

Oh! The heat. Bastard Zeus and his bolt-throwing, tube-sock-wearing weather team. Bastardy bastards. Have I no choice but to roll with this insufferable tropicality and pretend I didn’t burn, even from behind tinted windows? In fact, I do. I can set my sights instead on the future. What to ponder? Ah, yes. Harvest time. Even the phrase has a redemptive autumnal tone.

I will think of apples and squash and pumpkins on my plate and in my soup bowl, maybe all of them together. I will praise the nightshades. Having moved into an apartment, though, I have no garden to watch for the first time in many years. (Hence, you have witnessed the lunatic doting on indoor orchids that rightly belong on the other side of the equator. Hmm.) A stumper. How to autumnate? I will walk into my kitchen and see what’s there from this last farmers’ market:

Two tomatoes (zebra, Cherokee) with the freakish lumps that signify heirloom
Fingerling potatoes
Spring onions, garlic, shallots
Roundabout a dozen assorted stonefruits, two threatening to abandon themselves to wrinkles and worse if I don't hurry up about it ...

I browse around among other items, and come to it: the perfect, singular apple in its own bowl. This is the thing for which I will plan: apple picking.

Like an apple on the tree
hiding out behind the leaves,
I was difficult to reach
But you picked me.

Indeed. I’ll give you two apple poems by two Roberts. The first is Frost’s lesser-known, better apple poem, in my opinion. Am I the only one that reads it as a kind of ode to love unconsummated?


A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what had made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.
May something always go unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

—R. Frost

And now there's Bly. I’ve seen him read a few times and however much ridiculous, manly bluster he brings, I continue to admire the importance of (some of!) his ideas and the grace of his phrasings. He leaves nothing of life's difficulty out--it's all here: the wisdom gleaned in transit, the conscious thoughts of culpability, the regret, the deepest need for communion, the growth and fatigue, the transience of our most important opportunities.

Passing an Orchard by Train

Grass high under apple trees,
The bark of the trees rough and sexual,
the grass growing heavy and uneven.

We cannot bear disaster, like
the rocks—
swaying nakedly
in open fields.

One slight bruise and we die!
I know no one on this train.
A man comes walking down the aisle.
I want to tell him
that I forgive him, that I want him
to forgive me.

—R. Bly

So. I'll be here. With all the intervals of weight and levity that tip the scales of my mind, I'll do what I can to return to the thought of apple picking, reveling: the heat is present, just as warm as we want it to be. The sun is gentle, hanging back, and the apples are not at all difficult to reach. It’s the perfect moment to be alive. And yes, of course. It's just the right thing to be doing.