Before taking my border collie Chummi for a walk in the woods here in Maine in the waning, gentle afternoon light on Earth Day, I decided to have a small snack – having not eaten since breakfast. Gail had filled the fridge’s crisper with a whole bough’s profligacy of Granny Smith apples. What a gorgeous sight! Granny Smiths may be the most reliably satisfying of all the apples – firm, tart, delicious. These organic beauties must have been picked last fall in Washington State and kept fresh in an atmosphere of 1-methylcyclopropene which retards their deterioration to punkiness. It works. I ate a few slices plain and heaped some chunky peanut butter on some more. I love that.
Before the slices and before the spreading of peanut butter, I wondered at how the perfect, grass-green apple, cool from the refrigerator, fit perfectly in the grasp of my left hand. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the miracle of the apple, for the extravagance of having a bounty of them available, and how, by extension, this apple signified all the gifts of the earth. I held it up to the window light and marveled at how it wore highlight and shadow as perfectly as the moon. And how, I could say literally, I had the whole world in my hand. To say that sounds like a saccharine cliche (neither tart nor firm), but there is nothing cliched about the apple itself, nothing cliched about the Earth. The only cliche is in how, the world having been entrusted to our hands, we have not been worthy of that trust.
Chummi and I took one of our favorite walks – through an open oak woods that winds into white pine and spruce, then climbs to a bluff overlooking the upper Bagaduce River. We had encountered no other people and could see none from this vantage point – only the gray-blue water and the many fingers of tree-covered land reaching out into it in the distance. The unleaved trees looked like brown fur, pettable. How curious to be on this planet with its eight billion people and be so spectacularly alone.
Here, at this moment, the Earth Apple was seemingly intact, as though the Earth itself was bathed in an atmosphere of 1-methylcyclopropene keeping it crisp, tart, and inviolate, protecting it not from its deterioration but from what we have done to it. Below us a female black duck flew by quacking, and we could hear the distinctive whistling of her wings.
Walking back, by a different set of twisty trails that lead past huge erratic, ice age boulders covered with sphagnum moss and elephant lichen, we were surprised by a solitary hiker coming towards us – a tall slim man, in his forties, I guessed, wearing a blue windbreaker and gray cap. He offered no greeting, not even a smile. Chummi often greets strangers by trying to herd them, darting in behind and nipping at their ankles. Not really painful, but startling and annoying. She did this to the hiker who just kept walking as I tried to call her away. The episode ended when he turned and glared at her and she ran to join me. Less than a minute had passed. As we walked on I was surprised by another kind of gratitude – that the man’s response to this brief unprovoked irritation was not to pull a gun and shoot my dog. Such is the condition on planet Earth Apple where, increasingly, minimal intrusions into a stranger’s space – intrusions once met with either politeness or, at worst, a short tirade of invective – are an excuse for bullets and blood. The gun lobby’s hype that more guns make us safer is disproved every day by the fact that more guns make more people insanely deadly. We used to say, somewhat amused, when describing the gnarly countenance of an irritated stranger, “If looks could kill…!” Oh, for the security of those irritated looks!
What we like to call “civilization” has never had much respect for the equations of reciprocity: As Earth gives us life, we should give back gratitude and create conditions by which life can continue to flourish. We have been takers, not givers. Exploiters, not healers. And now the casual murderer with a gun is the most intimate expression of that reciprocity gone psychopathically haywire.
Pick up an apple, cradle it, like the Earth, in your hand, consider what it means to you.