Monday, November 12, 2012

Twelve Orchards

Now that all are gone, I thought that I should make a list of my family's twelve orchards, and what they contained.

Here, then, are the twelve orchards -- as far as I am able to remember. To other people, they might seem ordinary orchards, but they were special to us, and within them we never failed to find wonders.

Orchard #1 was composed of beavers and beaver dams. The rows were navigated by canoe and this orchard was highly profitable, in floods.

Orchard #2 consisted of bonfires. Isn't that convenient? Lovers always had someplace to go and Old Hank got an eyeful as he made a modest fortune selling cider donuts.

In Orchard #3 we cultivated crackpot theories, fringe political candidates and conspiracies. Doomsday was in oversupply -- but wild ideas from left field remained as popular as ever.

Orchard #4 contained only Blue Hubbard Squash. And Blue Hubbards, it must be admitted, were no longer the bumpy gargantuan darlings of American housewives. Nonetheless, the Blue Hubbards were not budging. They'd grown so enormous and so hard -- there was simply no negotiating with them.

In Orchard #5 we grew rocks. Yes, regular rocks. Even though this was not glamorous or profitable the good news was: the rocks were always incredibly successful. The peaches might get hit by frost every other year but -- there were always more rocks, and big ones!

In Orchard #6 we cultivated packinghouse ladies. Naturally the competition to do so was intense. More often than not the workmen took to smacking each other and the packinghouse ladies had to cultivate themselves. Just the same, our packinghouse ladies were second-to-none: apples and children were sorted accordingly, without ever a bruise or a break in the skin.

Orchard #7 was composed of naked apple pickers. Only naked apple pickers. Naked except for their apple buckets. Standing on aluminum ladders. Nobody was allowed to go to Orchard #7. Nobody ever wanted to go anywhere, except to Orchard #7.

In Orchard #8 we grew cider, in jugs. Our grandfather had been among the first to admit that crushing apples for their juice was barbaric.

Admittedly this had its challenges. Some years the trees produced only empty jugs. Other years, only cider. Unsuspecting passersby might suddenly be doused in sweet and sticky juice.

In Orchard #9 we somehow found space for a few apples. Apples possessed of such sterling self-esteem they shined themselves. People who ate them -- or rather, those by whom the apples consented to be eaten -- came to quietly possess small advantages: they grew a third set of teeth or developed the ability to play unusual musical instruments, such as the gamelan or the harmonium.

In Orchard #10 we grew enormous strawberries, on trellis. The taste, its true, did suffer some among these gargantuan berries -- but it will come as a surprise to no one that, on our farm, even the small fruits tended to suffer from delusions of grandeur.

Orchard #11 consisted of herons. What a hassle, only herons! Herons and doomed lugubrious goldfish. Herons and goldfish and tourists. Tourists mostly in hysterics, because nothing in their lives had prepared them for so many herons. In most of the world herons are seen only one at a time: the herons know that is all we can handle.

In Orchard #12 we once cultivated the sky. The sky which once stretched above us, far as the eye could see, the sky which now must be painstakingly maintained in special preserves, given antibiotics and fed intravenously.

We had one of the very last patches of natural sky and, though you may struggle to believe it, the blue of that sky was 100% real natural blue. No dyes or additives were used. This was where the granddaughters received tutorials, directly from the sky. The granddaughters, to whom the farm rightfully belonged.

Twelve orchards!

It is easy to imagine how the boss of such a place might mistake himself for a king. A minor god. Perhaps delusion is nearly unavoidable -- that the arrival of so many herons, so many first-rate packinghouse ladies, means that something is laudable about you personally.

From there it is one small step to believing -- you deserve even better.

"Development," said the Boss, our father, as though the earth does not reach full flower until a house is built atop it. Let someone else preserve the sky. The granddaughters were sent packing.

The granddaughters, to whom the farm rightfully belonged, hurried away, carrying the sky within themselves.

Looking around for something else to sell, the Boss' eye fell upon the herons. Who needs them really, he decided, it's not as though they lay eggs, like chickens. And the herons departed.

To tell the truth, the money had never been good for small fruits -- at least not compared to a road lined with mansions, named Strawberry Lane.

Are apples still necessary nowadays, the Boss wondered, and the apples were left to fall, unpicked, to the ground, where their grief at not being eaten poisoned the water table, generating debt so vast it necessitated selling off Orchard #8, where cider had once grown in jugs.

As for Orchard #7, well, it was found to be simply immoral. Those naked apples pickers were told to put pants on and go home. Which they did -- though you can find them online now at, along with a number of absolutely scintillating naked packinghouse ladies.

The Blue Hubbards, to their credit, operated a courageous guerilla operation, but finally were overtaken and dynamited, along with the field of rocks.

Crackpot theories never got anyone anywhere, our father the Boss declared, and fringe party candidates were never elected. "I am simply being practical, pragmatic and realistic. Hard-headed, rationalistic, matter of fact" said the Boss. The land was blanketed with signs calling for the re-election of Congress' current members.

The bonfires were doused and Old Hank sent off to the old people's home. On that land four pharmacies were built, each the mirror reflection of the others, so that the townspeople might have unparalleled selection.

The beavers, seeing what was coming, hitchhiked out of town, their dams strapped to their backs.

Using the money, the Boss set up the Twelve Orchards Memorial Foundation, complete with statues and speeches, so that the farm might be preserved in perpetuity and provide a refuge to people wearied by the never-ceasing rush of human progress.

All this was accomplished with so much fanfare and adulation
that it was a little while before anyone recognized or admitted that nothing whatsoever was left.

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