The Orchard and the Hedge

The Orchard and the Hedge September 22, 2010

Last April, as I may have mentioned, Peter and I planted a sort of mini-orchard of eight semi-dwarf apple trees.

Our new old house sits on a main artery.  Behind the house are literally hundreds of acres of woods, filled with deer, red squirrels, bears, and every sort of tree–including a few old, abandoned apples, and even some lingering chestnut trees.  Before you’ve gone a quarter of a mile into the woods, the road sounds have faded away, and there’s nothing left but the sighing of leaves and the clacking of branches, the cheeky tunes of chickadees and the perpetual scolding of jays.

By the house, however, especially at rush hour, there is a regular flow of sometimes noisy traffic.  Last year, there was often trash in our yard, thrown out of the windows of passing cars.  And the constant flow of traffic makes the yard feel somewhat too exposed and public.

It was for those reasons we decided to plant some trees, hard up by the road, though back behind the salt splash line.  Many people advised us to plant cedars, so that, eventually, we’d have a thick green privacy curtain between us and the road.  I like cedars well enough, and I’ve seen some hedges I really liked, too, for that matter, but it didn’t quite seem right.  And besides, who can eat from a cedar tree?  We decided to plant apples, though we planted them close enough together that–we hope–their branches will touch and seem to intertwine, when they are grown.

They seem to be doing well, and there is much less trash in the yard this year.

A little bit before school started up, my friend Margaret came to visit.  Technically, she was there on business with Peter, but when he had to leave for a committee meeting, she lingered.  We wound up taking a long, leisurely walk in those woods, talking about everything I most wanted to talk about.  It was one of those wonderful conversations that go deeper than a confessional could, in letting you see and air out your deepest self, the kind of give and take that’s a blessing wherever you find it, but especially with a friend.

It was a very good walk.

When we returned from the woods, the shadows were getting long, and the air was getting cool with those first hints of fall that come sometimes at the end of August.  The air smelled so clean and so good, and our conversation had ranged so wide and deep, it was only natural that we plunked ourselves down on the grassy hill outside the house, and kept it up watching the way the trees at the edge of the wood blew in the breeze.

But up on the road, the traffic was building to its evening peak.  After a few minutes, Margaret commented on it.

“Yes, well, it’s true–that’s the one thing about the house we don’t really like,” I admitted.  “Still, I’m sure that’s part of the reason we were able to afford it.”

I glanced over at the road, not so very far away, and somewhat spoiling the otherwise idyllic mood created by the late sun on the cool green grass.

“And yet, ” Margaret observed, “you chose to plant apples, instead of a hedge.”

Photo credit: Kor!An (Корзун Андрей)


We chose to plant an orchard, not a hedge.

I think Margaret meant that to be a metaphor.  I think it works as one, too.  It is easy, in this life, to work at planting hedges.  But sometimes, the toughest hedge in the world will not really keep the world out.  And maybe it’s better to plant a few apple trees, instead.  Maybe there’s a thing, in embracing the world or in turning away from it, that is very much analogous to planting an orchard, or planting a hedge.

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