The killing frost

The orchard has few apple blossoms this year. Late frost has done its damage.

The large McIntosh tree by the driveway has very few apple blossoms this year. Most of the trees in the orchard have few or no blossoms. Late frost has done its damage.

Meanwhile, the trees along the creek—ornamental crabs—are in full glory, ethereal pink and radiant red. The warm air flows downhill, so there’s often an invisible river of warm air flowing down the creek bed, just above the water.

Some years the apple trees are heavily flocked with blossoms—mostly white—and the entire place takes on a celestial ambiance for a few days. But in years like this one a killing frost comes after the trees have left dormancy and formed buds. Large orchardists sometimes try remedies such as hiring helicopters to hover over the trees, pushing a layer of warm air down lower, or lighting smudge pots under the trees to generate some heat.

I pass on the helicopters and smoke—I make no money on the crop, and I won’t be hungry even if there is no harvest, so I’d rather not pass my time in a re-creation of Vietnam. Still, even when times are easy we take joy from bounteous harvests.

When the gardens and orchards are producing well, we are flooded with more goodness than we have space to use or store. This year, though, most of the trees have only a dozen or so clusters of blossoms, and some have none at all. What to do? I suppose I could cut down the trees and replace them with something more reliable. I could sell the place and buy a condo full of climate-controlled rooms, populated by potted plants.

Actually, I couldn’t. A single blossom is quite a lot, after all—enough to remind us that the tree is here as primally as we are, a manifestation of being. It’s when things become scarce that we sometimes recognize their worth. A single blossom means the entire vast miracle of fruit that even in hard times will abide. Our best thoughts are but seeing what is here.

In What Is Called Thinking? Heidegger writes:

We stand outside of science. Instead, we stand before a tree in bloom, for example — and the tree stands before us. The tree faces us. The tree and we meet one another, as the tree stands there and we stand face to face with it. As we are in this relation of one to the other and before the other, the tree and we are. This face-to-face meeting is not, then, one of these ‘ideas’ buzzing about in our heads.

Heidegger wants us to awaken from the slumber of ideas that may distance us from existence. In the buzzing in my head, the tree has many aspects. It is part of my ongoing synethesis of scientific understanding, composed of objects and processes, involving vitamins, carbohydrates, and acids. It is part of the complex web of life I try to understand, relating bees hovering at the blossom to finches chirping in the branches to bacteria feeding at the roots. It is a part of my cultural heritage, stretching back to Eve and to the very different garden of the Hesperides, at the northern edge of the world.

And, leaving Heidegger, it is part of the voice of God, a silent music at once present in my mind and beyond my consciousness, the vehicle of a metaphor and somehow, also, the tenor.