The conversation had not gone well. Bruce clicked his cell phone closed and said; “dealing with Wasco County electric is driving me crazy; we should have had the water and the electric in months ago. I need to be irrigating the upper field to show I’m using my water rights, and I need to get power and water down to the barn. These guys can’t agree on water pumps, what type of power we need, or if we need power filters or even how many poles to put on the property. And the water pump guy, the filter guy, and Wasco County are fighting with each other. I’ve lost a whole year of weed management and planting, because they can’t decide what to do.”
It’s been a frustrating few months for Bruce, and he’s right the water and the electric are crucial to getting the farm developed; I’m not sure what I can say to ease the situation.
Just then Milo, our tail-less orange cat, races through the farmhouse, and Ouzel –who does not like cats- gets agitated and chases after him. Milo jumps onto the island in the kitchen, and Ouzel stands below and barks. I yell at Ouzel and she slinks back to the living room.
Meanwhile Skookum is pacing round and round the dining table, and it seems we all need a change of scene.
I say, “Let’s go out to the farm and check the apples.”
Bruce is quick to agree, and Skookum noticing we are preparing to leave hurries into the kitchen, which is near the front door, and begins circling on the black and white checkered floor. I gather my camera, notebook, and water bottle into the daypack.
The four of us ride in my orange Jeep past cherry, pear, and apple orchards. Each dog pokes its head out a back window. It’s September, so the cherry harvest is over, but the apples and pears are almost ready to pick. This reminds me I have been curious about what our apples at Mule Springs will taste like. We discovered an old tree bursting with bloom last spring, and we methodically thinned the apples, and we’ve been waiting for months to see if the old apples taste tart or sweet, dry or juicy, crisp or pulpy.
Once we get to Mule Springs and let the dogs out to run, we load up into the Polaris Ranger and Bruce drives toward the southwest end of the farm where the small old apple tree stands. We pull up to the tree and sit speechless as we scan the branches.
“What happened to the apples?”
“All the apples are gone!”
I jump out of the Ranger, and run over to the tree to get a better look. I walk around the tree studying it to see if any round green forms remain—nothing– the tree is totally empty, and it’s even empty to the top of the tree, which is well over twelve feet high.
“Who ate our apples? It wasn’t the mules, because they could not have reached the top apples.”
My mind lists other possible culprits: bear, coyote, bobcat, dove, crow, mountain lion, deer . . .. The ground below the small tree is trampled. It could have been the mules’ hooves or many small paws, but it’s certain not one remnant of an apple remains above or below.
A short distance away is a larger apple tree we overlooked last spring, because it had so little bloom. I walk over to see if it has any apples, and it does. A few of the branches hold plump light green apples. The apples are quite high though, and I see two apples lying on the ground. I reach up and grab the lowest branch and pull it hard toward me so I can just reach an apple. I pluck it and bite. The flesh is almost pure white, and it tastes sweet and suggests white wine. The peel is green without the slightest blush of russet whereas the apples’ peel on the small tree showed a shadow of russet, so I doubt I’m eating the same type of apple. And this is definitely not a pie apple. It’s the type of apple you savor when you are sitting on the porch during a warm, autumnal day. It’s an apple slowly eaten and revered for its crispness and a flavor you can’t quite describe.
But why are these apples here and the other apples missing? Perhaps it is because this tree is much taller. Beside the mules or deer, the only other animal I know of that might have eaten the apples is the ground squirrel. Normally they don’t climb trees. If you frighten an adult ground squirrel it looks for its burrow not a tree to climb, whereas a grey squirrel is a skillful climber. But I haven’t seen any grey squirrels on the farm. The older and heavier the ground squirrel gets the less agile it becomes climbing a tree, but I have watched young ground squirrels maneuver through branches of a large forsythia shrub in an effort to maraud my sunflower seed feeders. The small apple tree is the size of a large shrub, perhaps fourteen feet tall, and maybe the younger squirrels have been able to harvest the fruit.
I can’t think of a better idea than to set up a webcam next year and find out who is coming and eating the apples. Perhaps it is an animal I have not thought of, and maybe the reason the small tree blooms and produces so well is because it is so thoroughly picked each year.
I say, “let’s go over to the barn site and borrow a ladder and pick some of the apples from this tree. I’d like to use two cups of apple for Libby’s cake.”
Next Tuesday is Bruce’s mom’s ninety-ninth birthday, and I’ll be making cake for the party. I plan to bake a layered apple spice cake with vanilla butter crème icing. An old fashioned cake with apples in it from an heirloom tree seems perfect for a beloved family matriarch.
Note: If you would like to read the first post about the small old apple tree, see Mule Springs posting; July; Finding an Apple.
Any ideas what ate our apples and why the larger tree has apples and apples on the ground?