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The Apple Tree Episode



My husband climbs into the car loaded with several sacs of apples and mutters, “I had an encounter with the New Boulder.”

“Uh oh,” I respond.

For my dear husband, late September often means apple-foraging. Through years of cycling the county’s backroads, he developed a mind map of the apple trees along the rights of way. A few years ago we planted a couple of trees on our property and foraging elsewhere has been unnecessary. But our trees, along with many others in the area, took this year off.

This morning he found a tree at the mouth of a local canyon that was laden with fruit. As he gleefully picked it he was confronted by an irritable boomer couple in a huge pickup truck who disapproved of his behavior. In their understanding of the world, the tree and its fruit can only be viewed through a lens of human property, authority, and control.

“But the apples are going to waste,” did not remotely register. He did have better luck with “I’m in the public right of way taking the fruit hanging over the road,” and the couple left.

His code for folks like the giant truck couple is “the New Boulder” because he’s lived in the area long enough to remember when Boulder really did have hippies in numbers and lived up to its counter-cultural image. Back then the couple might have been driving a rusty Datsun, and they probably would have stopped to join him. To be fair, it is still easier to find unconventional people and activities in Boulder than in many other American cities. But overall, it has always felt to me like any other liberal, urban island, and as its affluence increases, so does the dissonance around its granola, woo-woo image.

But the story isn’t really about Boulder. What struck me was the sense that the average person no longer relates to that apple tree as a source of food. I see this all the time. Trees growing in people’s yards surrounded by a ring of rotting fruit on the ground. Meanwhile the people that live there are bringing home cellophaned produce and pop tarts from the store.

More broadly, we no longer have the ability to relate to our landscape and the beings in it as the source of what sustains us. As allies. As nourishment. That animal part that bodily senses and knows – this is food – no longer functions. It has been completely deactivated. And that has taken a lot of doing.

Don’t take my word for it. Try it. Go out for a walk in your landscape and see if you can find that part of your being that knows how to find food.

Instead, we are conditioned to see the apple tree (if we see it at all) through the filter of abstract human concepts and relationships that must be enforced. And we are conditioned to understand food as a product that we pay for with money. We are programmed to think that it comes from a human process through which feeding ourselves is really a means of generating profit.


  1. I couldn’t agree more Ruth. My girlfriend has taught me about edible weeds and it has been so empowering to take we could actually live off the land if we had to. It really changed my relationship to the land.

    • Fantastic. I wish I knew more about wildcrafting.

  2. The “packaging” of nature is at the very least disheartening. I agree. The belief is somewhere along the lines of if we do not touch, nature will remain a painting, forever caught in a moment. It is not nature that is caught, I suspect….

    For what it’s worth, here in northern Florida it is time for the winter vegetables to grow. Although I no longer garden, friends do, and gleefully, I accept their offerings as well as the farmers who fill the stalls of “winter” markets. I once lived in the West, in the days when Boulder “stood out” as quite unconventional. Compared to where I live now, it still is–without a doubt–however, here it is traditional to pick nature’s fruits seasonally, and for worse and better, the South is traditional.

    Really enjoyed this post, Ruth!

  3. Thanks Karen. I appreciate your comment. Boulder still has some great qualities, but the influence of consumerism and affluence is gaining momentum here.

    I’m in the process of wrapping up the gardening season and feeling a sense of wistfulness. Enjoy those winter markets!

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