My hands were numb from the wrist down that day.
Winter in the southern climes of Australia can deaden parts of your body like a local anesthetic.
I’d visited a plant nursery. Rows of fruit trees lined the walkways. Sunshine shone on walls like a faded undercoat of paint. A faint smell of mulch layered air. The nursery was almost empty of people and it wasn’t long before an employee approached me. Grandfatherly, I may have described him as. Similar to a neighbor leaning over your fence and offering advice on how to help your roses bloom or make your grass lusher than the shag pile carpet in your lounge room.
I told him I wanted an apple tree. He yanked one out of a pot, its roots spindly as strands of cobwebs.
“There,” he said to me, pointing out tiny swellings on the side of the thin tree trunk. “See that? It’s the new roots beginning to grow. They start in July every year.” I took the tree into my hands—it felt more dead than alive—and cradled it inside my elbows to my car.
I’d found a space on my own property, out the back. Rear windows would look toward the tree, petals in spring billowing past like moths, and then hopefully, the slow growing and blushing pink of the apples. Flowering in October, the apples are picked toward the end of April, possibly as late as May. In that time, fruit needs to survive wind storms, hail, heat waves, possums, birds, and four-year-old grandchildren who think pulling the fruit off the trees is as much fun as blowing bubbles.
I’d been considering buying a tree for years. At home, I dug into the hard earth, rocks breaking and tumbling out like pieces from a buried civilization. Despite the cold air, I perspired, my muscles out of tune from an office job as I strived to break through. I dug past grass, topsoil, clay, and stone, each layer through the ground resembling the colors and textures sometimes seen across rock faces.
But I wanted that apple tree. I wanted to see it thriving at a time when the world was still. A time when we hardly venture out and conversations seem to happen more on social media than spoken. I wanted its color and joy and even its hope—that those apples will be offered up in the coming months and a single bite into them is one step toward feeling alive again.
I wanted to plant it in defiance of climate change and the rising of that slow, lethal heat, igniting fires, and curdling air. I wanted to look at it in the mornings and know it was something for the future, which is a time I’ve been believing less and less in lately. I needed its optimism and hope.
The spring is already half over here. Warmth is still more likely to be experienced rising from cooking, burrowed through blankets, or under the arms of another person as they gather you to them.
But for now, I continue to plunge hands into pockets and walk out through the cutting wind to that tree and all it stands for.