Sundered at its core and split to the heart, sprawling across the sere turf in the corner of a yard imprisoned within a chain-link fence and bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Way and South Alaska Street, the huge, old apple tree - its last fruits forbidden - has now begun to look its age: reptilian.
As I pass by this downer tree for the ten-thousandth time on my way to the bus stop, I confess to a need to avert my eyes. This doomed tree soon to be 'disappeared' like all the other trees in the widening of MLK Way for light rail - a god begotten tree by the gods forgotten - has come to resemble some arrested species of imploding dinosaur, and, unbelievably, it has still been producing apples.
Even before the tree's predictable, fated end I watched it survive major blows over the past decade or so, such as losing an enormous branch after an unusually raging storm three years past. Later, the barely-attached felled branch flowered and made apples. Then, another merciless wind knocked the trunk sideways, exposing it down to the dark-mossed megaroots. I was amazed to observe that all this trauma seemed to encourage the tree to multiply its fruit.
Last year, I picked the apples I could reach and harvested a bounty of perfect windfalls that apparently no other resident in my hood cared to retrieve. They missed a great apple: crisp yet subtle, slightly winey, not too cloyingly sweet, tasty to eat out of hand, and excellent to include in curries and chutney.
When this tree was planted - it must be at least a half of a century old, if not older - I can't know, nor do I know how I might have saved it, nor why I didn't alert a skilled gardener (I am not one) to salvage cuttings from the tree. Irregardless, I have been inspired by the sheer survival-grace issuing in abundance from this old apple tree that has made its stand, appropriately, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Columbia City.
The verb survive derives from the Latin supervivere: super, meaning over, plus vivere, meaning to live. I think of the countless people in Columbia City who have survived in extraordinary ways the catastrophes, unplanned uprootings, and discordant circumstances that have forced them to become refugees with the no-choice choice of starting over again. Hopefully, our children will eventually hear these survival stories of failure and triumph in our community. Stories many have not yet been privileged to hear.
In the meantime, given the just-completed theater of the Olympics returning to Greece, I am reminded of an ancient Greek myth involving a certain golden apple tossed by the goddess of discord into an assembly of gods, who immediately began fighting each other over possession of the apple. The struggle resulted in Helen of Troy being carried off and a ten-year Trojan War being waged to bring her back to Menilans. Ah, and the myth of the 'apple of discord,' as it is known.
If the old tree in Columbia City has released a significant metaphor for discord, I would rather it were demythologized for another place on earth, i.e., for a war-ravaged land with thousands of human beings who have not survived, and whose ancient date orchards haven't either. Perhaps this knowledge is the source of the unease that comes over me at the melancholy sight of the fallen apple tree.