The sweetest tastes in life are those we can't quite savor.
What started as a normal day apple picking in Vermont became a trip to Eden.
I like apples, all kinds of apples. Every apple is delicious, and every apple is great. Without apples, we have nothing. Apples are the foundation of applesauce, apple butter, apple pie, high-octane gasoline, birth control, and of course, thee New York City. From red to green to yellow, and those are I believe the only three colors of apples, apples are wonderful. Except for Red Delicious apples, those are kind of gross. No one ever says that, though. They lack the applesack to say it.
On the sabbath, which is Sunday for some and Saturday for others, both for me, I like to rest and observe the world around me. Sometimes I lock myself into a plastic hamster ball and roll around city streets for hours, seeing who comes along and if they kick me. You shouldn't tap on the sides of a fish tank because it is hard on the fish. A hamster ball is not a fish tank. So, if you see a little man out on the streets in one of these plastic, magical orbs, that's me. Please, take this as permission to kick away!
But in the fall, when kids are going back to school and soccer is starting but who cares because so is football, I am much more interested in a different magical orb. What orb, one may ask? Well, if one has read the paragraph two paragraphs ago, one may guess that I am talking about apples. That is correct! I also accept Nerf balls as an answer. They too are magical orbs.
An apple orchard is a farm where apples are grown. I guess it's a farm, but in reality, it's more of a giant garden. Whatever, you say "tomato," I say "what about them and why are you initiating a conversation with the word 'tomato'"?
I imagine that every spring farmers go out in their fields and see which trees survived the winter, which is probably all of the trees. The farmers carry special appleseed distributors with them. The distributors are old tin coffee cans with a string on either side for a neck-strap. The tin is what makes them so special. After an apple farmer has emptied a distributor of apple seeds, he takes off the distributor, flips it over, plays it as a drum as he sings "Appleseed, My Appleseed," and he wears it on top of his head. That's how the Romans invented the top hat.
It was one of the last warm days in October when I went to Sunshine Orchards and had my divine encounter. The second Wednesday or the 18th, whichever comes first. That's the last warm day in October. PS it's always the second Wednesday, unless you're using a black market calendar. Which I do. Suck it! Sunshine Orchards sprawls over several few different plots, all of which go uphill from the centrally located barn and farmhouse. I don't know exactly how big it is, but if I had to guess I'd say between 50 and 1000 units. You be the judge!
Knowing that all of the best apples are always on the highest branch of the highest trees, I headed right for the peak of the hill. It took me twelve minutes thirty-eight seconds to get there. I walk very quickly when it comes to apples. That's why they call me "the apple Cheetah." God rest their poor, lost souls.
It was a splendid tree unlike any other tree I'd ever seen before. That's because the branches were on the bottom and the roots were on the top. Wait... I thought. I put my feet back on the ground and stopped doing the headstand I was doing. Nevermind, it was just a normal tree. But it was still really big.
Things were different around that splendid tree. Even though it was warm by October standards, it was a cloudy, windy day. But not around that splendid tree. The air was calm and the clouds above it parted, shining a beam of light on the tree. Each apple was as ripe and red as any I'd ever seen. Something about this tree seemed to call...
"Hey!" said the tree. "Hey, you!"
Oh, that was the tree calling to me. "Yes?"
"Do you like apples?" asked the tree.
I gave two thumbs up. "Boy do I ever!" I said. I wish I was wearing overalls, that would have been fun.
The tree shuddered, dropping a few apples into my basket. Oh, in case you don't believe me, I totally brought a basket with me right from the beginning. Baskets are a timeless way of carrying apples. The Navajo people know many of the secrets of the land.
"Well, how about them apples?" said the tree.
"How long have you been waiting to tell that joke?" I asked.
"You wouldn't believe," said the tree.
I took a bite from one of the apples. It was an A+. It tasted like an apple, but way better. That's how good this apple was.
"What do you think?" asked the tree.
"This apple is incredible," I said. "Hey, are you the Giving Tree?" I asked.
"No, and don't ask me that again," said the tree, crossing his branches like arms across his chest, pouting. "There are other talking trees, you know."
"Sorry," I said, patting the sweat from my brow like an old man in the South. "Lordy, lordy, I sure do like them apples," I said in the exact tone of an old man in the South.
"I'm glad you like them," said the tree. The tree then looked very sad. "It's all I can do." The tree cried sappy tears.
"Hey, don't be sad, tree!" I said, hugging his trunk. "Surely it is better to be great at only one thing than to be only OK at many." If you're reading this, run-first quarterbacks, yes I'm talking to you. And no, I don't mean specialize in the run.
The tree stopped crying. "Thank you, friend. That makes me feel better. Is there anything else I can do to repay you the favor?"
I was just about to carve my initials into the tree with my pocketknife, but I figured that probably wasn't a good idea anymore. Friends don't usually carve into other friends. I would never get a tattoo. "I love apples so much, tree," I said to the tree. You know, the talking apple tree. "Do you have a special apple more delicious than all others?"
The tree nodded, which was terrifying, because it made way too many apples fall down at once. There was a lovely blue flower growing at the base of the tree, but it got smashed by one of the apples. What a bummer for that flower!
"Yes," said the tree. He lowered a branch down to me. "Get on, Mac."
"How did you know my name?" I asked as I stepped onto the branch.
The branch lifted me to the top of the tree. "We trees are very perceptive. Yours is a name known by many in nature, friend. You journey is one watched by all those beyond men. The otters don't just befriend any tiny person."
Wow, that's incredible, I thought very briefly. But then I remembered that I was being lifted up in a tree by a tree, and that was way more interesting than whatever this old bat was saying about the world watching me. "Thanks for the lift," I said.
The tree set me down on his top branch. There his branches were quite different. They were thicker, weaved into a branchy basket. The Navajos know this. The Navajo people know many of the secrets of the land. In this webbed basket sat two silver apples, like two precious eggs in a nest.
"I assume these are them?" I asked, picking up the apples before the tree could even answer because I am a maverick.
"How about them apples?" said the tree, excited.
"You already used that one," I said.
"Shit," said the tree. "Yeah, those are them."
I picked up the two silver apples and put one in each of my pants pockets. I may be very small, but I am smart enough to always wear big pockets. You never know what you'll need to put in your pockets. That's why kangaroos are always prepared.
"Go ahead and take them," said the tree, a step behind but hey he's a tree I'd say he's doing pretty well considering. He reached out his branch arm and lowered me back to the ground. "But be warned," said the tree.
The hole in the clouds filled and the beam of light stopped shining. A lightning bolt came down and struck the tree. He fell over, dead.
"Uh... My legs... Mac, please, help me... I'm not dead yet--"
I already said he was dead, jeeze. Plus I'd already walked far away enough by then where it was pretty believable that I couldn't hear the tree. Let's go with that.
I stopped halfway down the hill and took a bite from one of the silver apples. Life as I know it changed. My tastebuds were all tiny hands, rolling on ecstasy at a rave. I felt each individual particle of appley sugar as it tickled the hands, each sending a different light of intense color to my brain. My stomach became a warm pool. It relaxed all of the knots in my muscles as the appley bite slid down my throat into it. I was so relaxed I could see all the ghosts of sinners past, present, and future. That part sucked, actually.
I took another bite of the apple. It was too much this time. All of the tiny ravers ODed, a catastrophe at the festival. It was truly panic at the disco. The seizing hands overloaded my brain with lights. The pool in my stomach began to bubble, now more like a geyser. The waters rose, no longer relaxing my muscles, but instead burning them. All of the simulation went directly to my brain. I could feel it shutting down, a dark shadow drowning out the light of the world as I faded from consciousness. My brain was shrinking and dying, as pale and constricted as a Kraft Jet-Puffed Miniature Marshmallow.
The geyser erupted. I put my hands on my knees as silver hotness overflew past my lips onto the ground. I heaved several times, completely draining myself. Exhausted, I lay on the ground, panting. As my heart rate lowered, my vision returned. The shadow of dark euphoria was gone with my stomach contents.
I rolled over. The apple was on the ground, shining silver, beckoning to me.
I picked it up and studied it. How can something so perfect, so delicious, be so much to handle? I thought.
I heard a sizzling sound and looked over my shoulder. Behind me, where I had thrown up, a hole burned in the ground. It left a silver crater that steamed from its own heat.
I stood up, still holding the apple. I looked at it one more time, then threw it into the little crater. The apple melted and filled the crater with molten silver. It slowly cooled and hardened into a solid silver circle.
The air was calm and the clouds above parted, shining a beam of light on the silver spot. It reflected onto my face, seemingly as bright as the sun itself. I turned my head away from the glare.
There, a few feet from me, stood a Navajo warrior. He stepped toward me and held out a strong hand, palm up. He stopped walking and raised his other hand, pointing to the bulge in my side.
I reached down, touching the other apple.
The Navajo warrior nodded.
I took the apple out of my pocket and placed it in his outreached hand. He closed his fingers around the silver wonder. "One day," he said, lifting the apple to his lips and taking a bite. "But not today, Mac," he said.
The hole in the clouds filled. A lightning bolt crashed down between the Navajo warrior and me. I instinctively shielded my face.
Relief followed my moment of panic. I was unharmed. I lowered my hands and turned to the warrior.
He was gone.
I looked out the window of the little roadside diner. The sun was setting over the New Mexico desert. It painted the sky with stunning shades of red and purple that a camera will never be able to capture.
"Just coffee for you, hun?" said the waitress. I faced her, squeaking on the red vinyl booth seat as I turned.
"Do you have any pies today?" I asked.
"We've got pecan and apple," she said.
"I'll take a big slice of the apple pie, please. Ice cream on the side."
She made a quick note on her pad then walked off. I took a sip from the thick white mug and looked back out the window.
Somewhere, far out in the dessert, a number of strong, wise people know the answers to questions I couldn't even think how to ask yet. I hoped to ask those questions someday soon. I hoped to find those answers, to fill the holes in my heart with silvery goodness.
The waitress came back, setting a plate of scrumptious looking apple pie down in front of me. "I gave you an extra big piece and a little extra ice cream," she said, smiling. "You look like you could use a little extra meat on your bones." She left.
I took a bite of pie. It tasted great.
How about them apples? I thought.