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A Brush With the Spirit Of an Abandoned Orchard

THAT AFTERNOON I headed in a new direction. I had always wanted to explore that part of our parish. A friend took me there some ten years ago and I was so struck by the undulating scenery – green fields with tightly packed gentle hills - that I kept reminding myself again and again that I must see the place.

The dusty road, familiar from the ten year old trip, took me up and down the slopes, past the empty pastures where the cattle had grazed the previous month, and past a little farm with an old wooden cottage, a cowshed and a barn. A young dog barked fiercely, tugging at its chain. I knew the man, the owner of the cottage. He was my age, an historian, who had failed to make a life for himself in the capital city because of his addiction, and had returned to live in his childhood home, in place of his parents who had long been gone. The man was nowhere to be seen so I pressed ahead.

The wheels of my bicycle were spinning merrily down and down a gentle slope. I knew I had to watch out for an occasional car which could appear any time out of the blue, or for a pothole or a stone, but still it felt heavenly riding in the wind, with total abandon, not a living soul or even an animal as far as your eye could reach.

And then I saw an orchard. I stopped and got off the bicycle. The orchard was old and huge - no less than forty ancient apple trees. No house. The remains of its foundation had to be lying overgrown somewhere at the back of the orchard. The branches of the trees were black and thick and worn out, covered with silver grey lichen and weighed down to the ground by the abundant fruit. The year was particularly generous.

I wandered through the orchard. I could not help but imagine how someone was planting young trees with great enthusiasm and with a vision for the future, harvesting apples year after year. And here it was, old and abandoned, in the middle of nowhere. I found a few trees of my favourite varieties – the apples were already ripe and sweet. I realized how hungry I was. This time I had only fetched a bottle of water with me, no sandwich. So I ate apples, from one tree, then from another until I could no more.

I decided to try my new telephoto lens 70-200 mm that I had just bought second hand. I was very excited about the new possibilities that it promised me. I set up the tripod among the old apple trees, then attached the camera, set it up and stood there trying to visualize an image.

Suddenly, behind the branches, heavily laden with apples, I saw a red back of a roe deer. I froze in anticipation that he might move my way. Then I heard the sound of an approaching car and the scared animal dashed into the thicket of the orchard towards me. He was a handsome buck with elegant antlers, standing right in front of me. At first he didn’t see me. I stood still hoping that he would take me for a tree. The viewfinder was at my eye level, so I focused as well as I could, trying to move as little as possible, and pressed the button gently.

But no, he was not to be fooled! He turned sideways and was off, out of the orchard, across the road, barking indignantly and warning his folk.

He made my day! I had a brush with the spirit of an abandoned orchard! I could not stop smiling from ear to ear. Just stood there, staring at the apples, the old branches, and the black trunks. I felt dazed. As if in a slow motion movie I packed the camera and the tripod, went out into the meadow and sat on the grass at the edge of the orchard. That’ll do for today. As I could think of nothing else of how to celebrate this wondrous encounter, I took out my diary and wrote in it.

After I’d celebrated enough, I mounted the bicycle again and decided to ride a little further along the road. Green wavy fields, hay bales, an empty cottage with boarded up windows here and there. True, there were two lived-in cottages as well! I looked around. I would definitely come here again. Now I was too tired and had to turn back. How silly of me: as if I had no apples of my own (my orchard was breaking under the profusion of fruit!) and as if the rucksack was not heavy enough with the photo gear, I had stuffed my rucksack with the apples from the roe deer’s orchard…

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