We spent the weekend at our old, favorite campground, way up in the White Mountain National Forest. We’ve been going there for almost 40 years, Paul and I and our kids. We feel like we know those mountains. Like they are our friends and relations, and our mentors.
Over all these years, we have seen those mountains in the sweet wet green of spring, and in the riotous colors of fall. We have been there for the scary thunderstorms of July, when the Ranger came to clear us out because of the threat of dangerous lightning and high winds. We have seen frost on the leaves and watched a young moose go wandering through the crisp golden leaves of October.
Our family has grown up in this campground, learning to make a fire, to pick blackberries, to hike above treeline. My babies were bathed in the cold mountain streams that flow through the camp. They ate oatmeal on the wooden picnic tables, spooning it in as fast as possible before ice formed on top of the dish. They hiked in the hills around the campground, swam in the cool green river, caught little brook trout and gave thanks to the great spirit before we cooked and ate them.
This weekend, when I went to the campground for the 39th time, I was struck by the abundance of little green apples on the trees around our site.
I know that those trees are the descendants of the orchard that was planted by the original settlers in the 1830’s. I know that that orchard provided fruit and jam and a source of income to the family who had the courage to clear and tame this wild mountain land.
I have watched that orchard for almost four decades now, noting that the old apple trees are becoming more gnarled and twisted with each New England winter. I have seen years in which the apples are as small and wrinkled as cherries, with greenish white skins that shrivel in the first cool breeze of the mountain summer.
I have seen years when there were only a handfull of fruits, shrunken and misshapen; barely resembling the healthy red apples that must have grown here a hundred years ago.
I have seen years when there were no real fruits; only the stunted buds of sour green stones where real fruit should have been.
But this weekend, for reasons which I cannot begin to understand, I saw three old and twisted trees whose branches were full to bursting with round, green apples.
Oh, those apples were small; far smaller than the Macs and Delicious and Macouns that we will be picking in our local orchards in a few short weeks. But they were apples just the same. Lush, healthy, ripening fruit was clinging to those old gray branches, bending them with its healthy weight.
For some reason, the old, bent apple trees under which my children have camped and slept and dreamed for all these years, are suddenly bearing fruit as if it was the first full summer of their lives. They don’t seem to know that they are old, and spent and all but powerless.
For some strange and beautiful reason, those lovely regal trees have reached deep into the damp earth of New England. They have gathered up all of their remaining strength and called upon the collected memories of these fields and hills and forests; remembering with sweetness when they were farms and orchards and barely broken ground. When heroic young families braved the most bitter winds and storms to carve a life out of the unyielding granite of these mountains.
For some strange reason, this year the trees of the campground are filled with beautiful, healthy fruit.
Somehow, against all odds, those wizened old apple trees have dipped into the center of themselves and have poured all of their remaining life and strength into one more season of bounty.
This summer it is as if time has not moved on, not at all. This summer, it is as if the mountains are still wild, the forest untamed. It is just as if the orchard where we camp is newly planted, newly cultivated. As if the original settler and his wife were there to harvest the crisp apples for cider and for winter sweetness.
For some reason, this summer, time has rolled itself back, just a bit.
And that is a very rare gift, indeed.