My Grandfather's Orchard

Lesson 1.


My grandfather's hands are split in one thousand different ways by small chasms and rifts. They are cracked like an oak, and his bark is the leather skin that covers up his stringy muscles, bum joints, and skeleton. My grandfather is a tree man. He has owned and worked on an orchard for all twenty years of his retirement.

Retirement is for sissies, he'll tell me. Why would I want to let a bunch of young asses ruin the world that I've been fixing? He snickered at the mention of retirement, because he thought it was America's way of making room for the young and wild. So, when his job boxed him into the “Old” category and began promoting younger guys with more company lifespan, he quit and bought a field in the very same month. He spent some of his 401K on tools and seeds. He started with a few rows, and he grew his orchard more every year. My parents said he should hire some workers to help plant, but he refused. He wasn't about to let a bunch of young asses ruin the field he was making. And so he continued, planting a few more rows every year. Despite its slow beginnings, the tiered growth made the orchard more diverse, and walking through his orchard was fascinating. It was like walking through time. If you went North-to-South, time sprinted forward with you. You would begin with tiny saplings that left much of the ground unshaded, but as you walked, the trees would grow up. They got thicker bark; their leaves became impossible to count, and the ground began to look peppered by the tiny pricks of light that burst through rare openings in the foliage. If you went from South-to-North, the opposite was true. Trees shrunk down until they were tiny, hardly as thick as a wrist, with leaves curling out like fingers. Grandpa said that this walk made him feel young again, and after making the trek with him, I'm inclined to agree. There was a certain magic to the walk. At the end, as we faced each other like giants in the same forest, I could've sworn he had dropped three decades along the way. His back regained its strong line, and his skin had forgotten gravity's burden. Somehow, at that moment, he wasn't just a body that bore the name Grandpa. He wasn't even just a Grandfather that I loved. He was a guy, and through a window into the past, I could see that. I could tell you that the man who stood before me had been to war. It wasn't only in stories; I could picture him, young and wild, full of patriotic fury. I could see that he had loved, and not just the kind, understanding grandparent's love that I saw when he and Grandma held hands. I saw insane, volatile love. He had been a teenager once, loving like crazy for the first time, and crying just as hard when it fell apart. Age is a mask that is hard to see through when you're young. But when I saw him at the South corner of his orchard, I caught a glimpse through his leather, age-beaten skin. He was living a full life, and I was only a part of it. He wasn't a has-been. He was like me, and in the middle of that summer's great blue oven, without any shade, I could see my grandfather for the first time.

Lesson 2.


The phonebook was calling it Rueben's Orchard, an original and boring name, but my Grandfather's orchard had another title that became its unofficial moniker. The sign out front proudly read The Love Orchard. Despite its namesake, the orchard did not have any special propensity for growing relationships or nurturing kisses under those sunny apples. If we're counting, one kiss was given to me there, and that was when Grandmother gave me a peck on the cheek. The Love Orchard was instead given that name because of the odd way my Grandfather planted his trees. He grew them individually in pots until they were mature enough to be planted, but then, instead of spacing them all apart in efficient rows, my Grandfather paired each tree up with another. Two trees, three feet apart, with ten feet between every pair. Each tree grew up wedded with another––thus, The Love Orchard. I have never quite understood the rationale behind this, and Google thinks the close proximity will make both trees less likely to flourish. They have to compete for resources, blah blah blah. But my Grandfather didn't seem to listen, care, or believe me. And neither did his orchard. His fruit trees grew up well, and if you could catch them, his ripened fruit were firm and full of delicious nectar. So, I didn't bug him about it, and the tree-obsessed who tried to educate him about proper planting habits were always sent away with a few samples. Usually it would be a week before they meekly came back, with an order.

The Love Orchard was my “vacation” home, especially when my parents were busy or away. My grandparents were always excited and willing to keep me over for a few days. The arrangement gave my parents some freedom, and I loved it. One of my favorite pastimes as a kid was climbing some of the older arbor couples. Whenever I visited, I would zip up and down several trees like a monkey. The trees’ branch systems were quite impressive, and I always came down with a profound sense of wonder. Branches snaked around one another in a funny kind of order and some limbs even acted as supports. The trees were perfectly tangled, and yet each branch was aligned in unison with the other so that space was not wasted. On regular trees, this might not be important, but the limbs of fruit trees often snap or bow due to excessive weight caused by the ripening fruit. Grandfather's paired trees do not have as many broken limbs, because of the extra support. This is convenient in its functionality, but for me, the real amazement came from the trees' mere shared existence. Each pair was beautiful, and also had a certain ship-in-the-bottle mystique. The trees were impossible to extricate because the fit was so exact, and yet they could not have been fitted together either––evidenced by the intricate weaves that some of the trees formed. None of the other trees’ configurations were quite the same. One day I was particularly determined to figure this mystery out. I climbed every one of the older trees, and by the end, I was certain that none of them could possibly fit together with any of the others. Each tree was with its perfect match. Not knowing how to continue, I finally asked my Grandfather how he managed to select the right trees to pair.

Well, the trees just grow; they’re not very particular about their tree partner. It's kindof like dating, son. It doesn't matter so much who you select. What's more important is how much time you spend together. Especially when you're young.

I was baffled by this response, so I challenged his statement, But it does matter! People are unique, so what about the 'One'? She matters!

He grinned at me, Hah, well. You're certainly right; she does matter. But ‘she’ is whomever you choose for yourself. What's important is that you stick with her. That is what will make the real bond, and that is what will make her the ‘One’. The same goes for trees. Sure, there are a few trees that I usually don't match because of the height difference or time-to-maturity. However, within the large sphere of reasonable saplings, I can pick any which one. Here, let me show you.

He raised himself from his rocking chair and put on his worn-out sandals. He left his porch, moving towards the orchard. I followed behind him, walking barefoot through the soft brown dirt. He led me South, to the edge of his budding tree-line. Now. Let's walk North together. I'd like for you to watch the trees closely.

And so we walked, and I watched. At first, the young saplings were unmarked. Straight and identical, each one stood next to its partner. They stood as two individual trees that had been placed recently together by fate. We walked on, and the young saplings became small trees. By this point, the trees had grown up a little––they had plenty of leaves and thicker branches. They still looked like independent trees, but where their branches touched, the trees' growth began to make small adjustments, and their limbs made little exceptions. We moved onwards to the young adult trees. The young adults consisted of a wider age spectrum; the growth here was slower and less noticeable than before. Most of them looked the same at first glance, but when the leaves were parted back, a subtle change was noticeable as the trees became more crowded and their interactions started to increase. They mostly grew up and out like ordinary trees, but there was another growth––a mutual one. Every tree was growing up with its partner, and they began to fit together. None of the pairs were the same, but the growth did have a certain rhythm to it. Where one was weak, the other compensated. Wherever one tree had not filled out its foliage, the other grew leaves to cover it. And there were other cases that grew as the need arose. One tree had grown several of its secondary branches around its partner because its partner had shallow roots and was leaning. Near the end of the walk, I understood Grandfather's point, and he knew it. But he had one more to make.

Lesson 3.


When we arrived back to the front porch, my grandfather spoke again, Now son, you're sharp, so I'm going to let you in on a secret. A lot of life is like those trees. Careers, hobbies, and even responsibilities. People will tell you that you are made to do something, or be ’One’ thing. But life is natural. It grows into whatever plot you place it. You can be whatever you want to be. And whoever you want to marry, well, I'm sure they'll work out just fine too. Don't sweat the small stuff––just grow. He smiled at me awkwardly, knowing that I didn't yet fully understand the importance of the conversation, and then he walked back into the house. As the screen door closed and the sun began its final descent down the tree-spotted horizon, I ran off to climb a particular couple of trees that were good for thinking. I laid down on a few interlaced limbs, closed my eyes, and…I swear, I could feel myself growing up.

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