The fruit trees are generous this summer, and none more so than the apricot. Throughout the valley, peaches, pears, apples, all ripen extravagantly. A banner cherry harvest for the commercial orchards, and I’ve enough in the freezer for three pies thanks to Ellie and her prolific sour cherries, tiny shiny scarlet globes best pitted with a simple squeeze between fingers and gentle tug on the stem, too small for the pitter. No one has seen a fruit year like this for a very long time. Everyone is grateful.
Everyone is rolling in apricots. Neighbors are having a cookout to lure people to take away theirs. Suzi is generously drying the first round from my tree, and I’ve just picked the third. As many remain on the tree as I’ve already harvested. I’m staying just ahead of the birds; they peck the very ripest and every few days I pick what’s almost perfect and finish ripening on the counter. I get lucky and find some at their peak unpecked.
The more I pick the more I see I never saw before. Fred tried to warn me: Don’t be greedy, he said, and encouraged me weeks ago to thin them to a fist width apart. I couldn’t do it. I did thin them some, a couple of times, as I did with the peaches both before and after he gave me a hands-on lesson. Eight or ten peaches on a limb this size, he said. Maybe I should go thin them again, if the apricots are any indication. Which, of course, they are. I’m so grateful for his pruning, his advice, his instruction.
I have three times more apricots in one wooden bowl than I’ve ever had on this tree in all its fifteen years. (When did I plant it? Fifteen? Twenty years ago? Somewhere in between? I’m grateful I can no longer remember everything. It makes interacting with people easier, but it doesn’t really help in the garden.) Fresh apricot recipes are stacking up in my recipe folder. The tortoise and the mule deer eat those that drop, or that I throw over the fence if they’re scarred or nibbled or too green, or if there’s a wasp feasting inside.
I’ve harvested three big bowls and one small one in the past week, with more to come. A generosity of apricots. And still they glow in abundance on the bright green tree, strolling grey storm clouds behind them. An uncontrollable satisfaction rises in my soul, the joy of a gardener. Because of me, the time, the water, the help tending through the years, this fruit tree thrives and gives back lavishly this summer.
Another summer tree didn’t fare so well last week, a big juniper. We had a knock-down drag out lightning storm. People were talking about it for days. It was right on top of us, some said. I felt the electricity, said others. It was SO loud! more exclaimed. At Tai Chi, Deborah said The whole sky lit up, you could see every leaf, and there was a bolt through it, and in the bolt a fireball. Twice I saw that. I saw it and thought, Did I really just see that? And then it happened again.
In twenty-four years in this valley I haven’t experienced a lightning storm quite like that. An occasional strike too close for comfort in a wide-spread or fast moving cell. Once while I was standing in my open French door lightning struck a juniper not far in front of me and knocked me back a step. But never an intense cluster for fifteen minutes right on top of the neighborhood, one hard bolt after another, sky lighting up and crashing in the same instant, over and over. The dogs pressed close on the couch where I lay watching a movie. Then it passed, and we all started to relax.
After awhile I smelled smoke. Oh no! From the tower I scanned all directions and could not see flame or flickering, but the strong smell blew on a steady wind from the south. I called dispatch and learned that a truck was on the way to a burning tree somewhere in the next block.
I couldn’t sleep for hours. I climbed the tower again and checked the air before turning in, and found it sweet and pure.
It turned out Cynthia had also smelled smoke, ventured out with a lantern toward the canyon, and found the burning tree, initiating the chain of calls that led the brave fire laddies to it. Grass was burning all around it, she said. It was scary! It could have lit the woods on fire and burned down all our houses if she hadn’t located it right away. It was scary. The volunteer fire department put it out and chopped up the tree with chainsaws to make sure the fire didn’t lie down overnight, to spring up again the next hot dry day with a breeze.
It happens sometimes that a fire lies down in a snag or a hollow and smolders for hours or days before just the right wind ignites it and literally blows it up into a sudden monster fire, like the Wake Fire outside Paonia in ’94. A guy dutifully went out that night and put out the tree, but it blew up the next morning while the whole community was downtown celebrating July 4th at the Cherry Days Festival. The fire burned 6000 acres and three homes in just two days, at that time the fastest fire on record in the state.
Or just across the mesa in ’05 when a ditch burn crept into a stump and lay down for days after the rancher thought he’d extinguished it. Ladies started arriving for a Clothes Exchange, and when I greeted them at the gate after setting up the patio, they said What’s that behind you? A thick plume of black smoke rose beyond the trees. A dozen women ate and drank and tried on each others’ cast-off clothing as a helicopter hauled water from the reservoir and the slurry plane flew overhead. We were half naked anyway and flashed our tops. The pilot dipped his wing. Ellie called to report that a half dozen more guests were turned away at the fork in the road, the mesa was closed at all roads leading in, and we might be evacuated in ten minutes. There was a scramble to load up the Mothership with pets and valuables just in case.
The day after Cynthia’s Tree burned up, a gullywasher, a real Florida frog choker my visitor called it, dumped half an inch in half an hour, with only a few thunderclaps and lightning bolts in the distance. The monsoons are upon us. That evening we went down the road for dessert. It was a relief to know the smoke that greeted us came from the fire in the metal pit that would toast our marshmallows, on a perfect cool summer night in the warm company of our million dollar neighbors.