Fogamar, “of wind and abundance,” Old Irish for this season we call autumn. It’s the perfect word for our annual shift from daylong predictable sunlight to those interesting grays and shifting breezes, and the occasional convergence zone with its furious rains and towering charcoal cumuli.
When we first met our new home a few months ago, the air was lilac-laden, dizzying in its sweetness. The blooms were fading by the time we moved in at the beginning of August, and by a couple of weeks ago the tall shrubs were looking pretty bedraggled, with shriveled brown seedheads sticking above the brown-edged green leaves.
Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds, Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadees, the tiny chattery Bushtits bring the fading lilacs to fluttery, feisty life. The lilacs are even graced with the occasional flycatcher visit.
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Near the lilac hedge, a wrinkled old apple tree still grows, its cambium nobly gnarled and eroded, moss-laden, scarred.
As August inexorably turned into autumn, I was startled to see the abundance of the ancient tree’s apples. Once they reddened, I tentatively bit into one, anticipating the sour taste of crabapples plucked from other yards in other years.
It was delicious. Firm, crunchy, flavorful, the fruit of a mature lady who knows what she’s doing.
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Native Americans who lived here enjoyed the native Pacific crabapples that thrived in our moist lowlands, preserving the fruits with water and oil in boxes made of our abundant Western Redcedar, their flavor growing richer through the hard months. Although historical evidence is scant, early Seattle was probably replete with orchards planted by newcomers of European ancestry, including Wilhelmina (Minna) Piper of the Hanover region of Germany, shown here with her daughter in Piper’s Creek Orchard, North Seattle.
Minna and her husband Andrew (a Bavarian confectioner, artist, and early Socialist member of the Seattle City Council) planted many types of apples, including the now-rare Bietigheimer variety. Amazingly, some of their original trees, planted after Seattle’s Great Fire in 1889, still grow in the orchard. Could my elderly apple tree, dwelling in autumnal peace near the lilac hedge, be as old?
I like to imagine that in my tree’s heartwood, her strong inner core that supports all the living energy coursing through the enveloping sapwood, she still carries fibrous memories of her sprighood on the slopes of this pretty little valley near Puget Sound.
Days of Fogamar will fade into winter as the old apple tree prepares her blossoms for next spring’s bees, spending the darkening days in quiet companionship with her lilac friends. To every life there are seasons; yesterday’s sprig has in the mysterious moment of time become today’s Cailleach, old woman, bringer of winter. My apple-tree surely cannot last many more years, as I surely have left only a few evanescent decades. But in time’s cedarwood box, her fruit’s flavor has surely gained depth, dimension, a richness unimaginable in her first bearings.
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There’s one apple left on the tree now, suspended above the earth by a slender, lichen-laden twig.
Shall I pluck it to eat, or leave it to reach its final ripening, letting it fall to feed my little ground-foraging birds? I envision gray-haired Eve, her face wrinkled with the love-lines of a life in Eden, calling to her beloved to show him the gnarled, ancient tree she’s just discovered in a back corner of the garden.
Adam! Look and see! Here, it holds one fruit of exquisite beauty, a singular gift. It must be meant to complete our joy; it is offered so freely. I taste…ah! It is so sweet, so very sweet…