Images from Brant Lake: The Orchard; Or, How Graft Came to Brant Lake



After half a century of fruitful lives, the Macintosh apple trees in our orchard at Brant Lake ceased producing. 50 years of breeding is a limit, even for apple trees. Occasionally a red apple, punctuated by brown aging spots, valiantly hung on a branch, but the time had finally arrived to replant our orchard. Of course, we did not cut down the old trees. I consoled them with the words of the Bible: “Remember the days of old; consider the days long past.” (Deuteronomy.) And so with the hoary trees abundant with memories, I journeyed to Gil’s Nursery in search of a new generation of apple trees.

Gil and I roamed the fields, choosing the proper specimens. I knew what I wanted. Trees with meaning. My first selection, the old-fashioned Egremont Russet, traced its nomenclature to Lord Egremont of British nobility. But for me, this tree symbolized childhood baseball games with my father. We had a Russet in our backyard in Albany and the broad trunk morphed into a back stop for my errant curveball. That tree absorbed many scars and, if it could speak, would probably sound like a crab apple, “Enough, Daniel, enough!”

Tree number two. Since Brant Lake is situated in the Empire State, I selected an Empire apple combining sweet and tart, the perfect metaphor for life.

Number three. I had very little contact with my grandparents who lived in Minneapolis and Baltimore so I decided a Granny Smith would enrich my family ancestry.

However, with room for one more tree in the orchard, Gil suggested a grafted apple tree. He explained that he had taken the budding branch of one tree, made a cleft in the rootstock of a second tree, inserted the branch called a scion, and suddenly, two different types of apple emerged from a single trunk. Or three. Or four. I could pick a Cortland from one branch, a Jonathan from another. If I shifted several steps to the side I had a Honeycrisp. The opposite direction, a Macoun. What an incredible applesauce from a single tree! This was a must buy.

“And Gil,” I asked, “this grafted tree, what selection of apples will dangle from the branches?”

Gil frowned. “I don’t know. I forgot to label the grafts. All I can tell you is that this tree is an apple tree. Or many.”

Noticing my disappointment, Gil stroked his beard which, in itself, was a grafting of red, gray and brown hair. Then, with a smile, he shared the wonder of grafting.

”Sir, won’t you be surprised when you discover the varieties. You have just embarked on a journey of high adventure.”

I suppose Gil was correct. We know who we are but not who we will become—as humans, as apple trees. And, of even greater significance, isn’t every person a graft, made up of many different personalities, temperaments and backgrounds? Thus, each person is unique from one another.

Now, I can’t wait to see who I might still become as I branch out on the varied paths of life.

Brant Lake

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