More about the trees

Yesterday I walked up the alley to the market to get my coffee. It was a great little outing, the kind that makes my workday more grounded. My friends at the coffee shop greeted me by name. Then I moseyed downstairs to talk to David, who owns a used book store (Lion Heart Book Store) on one of the lower levels. Later I walked up Pine past Fifth Avenue and finally (been looking for several weeks) found Shoe Shine Eddie, who brightened up my Rockports for me. On the way back to the office I ran into and walked several blocks with Julie, who waits at my bus stop in the morning and with whom I often ride into town. It was the perfect downtown mini-adventure.

I don’t often buy anything from David, but if I’m thinking of a particular book I usually will give his place the first crack*, and he’s always glad to see me. David is lively and fun, a big kid really. He’s a chatterbox and the kind of local businessperson who remembers people and remembers what he talked about with them. He is clearly of Middle Eastern or maybe eastern Mediterranean descent, though he was raised here in Seattle, and he regularly adopts the vocal modulations and phrases of a desert carpet seller, just for a lark. When he rings someone up for a two-dollar paperback he says, “For you, my friend, three hundred dollars. It is a good price, a deal for you.” Women are treated to additional cooings having to do with the question of their whereabouts all his life. If our conversation is interrupted he will say to the customer as I stand aside, “it’s okay, this is my twin brother, you see he looks identical to me.”

David and I have been holding an extended conversation about the identification of a tree that he goes past every day — he wants to know what it is so he can get one, and I have looked at it from aerial photos and on Google’s Street View but we’re still not sure. Or rather, he does not think it is what I say it is (Cupressus sempervirens). Every time I go in he asks me if I’ve walked by that tree yet to examine it in person (it’s in the University District), and I always tell him to grab a piece of it and bring it to the store so I can look at it. We get nowhere.

Yesterday I went in because I was curious whether he had an old copy of T. E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but as soon as he saw me he started pestering me about that cypress again. That reminded me about my own tree story, which we will now segue into. Please empty your pockets of any sharp objects and hold on.

You may remember one of my first posts about the family apple tree. Where we left off, I had managed to keep only one of the eight grafted trees alive and I had the thing in a big plastic container and was nursing it until I could get it into the ground in a place where I thought it might be able to stay awhile. Well, Mara and I planted it up above the rockery last spring, behind several large rhododendrons.  I knew it would be safe there, get enough light and water, and be out of the way of most of the kid traffic. We had no rain all summer, but I dragged a watering can up the hill every day or two during the drought, and it did quite well. It put on several feet of growth in its two main stems before shutting down for the winter, so that it reached almost to my height.

Not yet a tartsworth, but the significance of this fruit is enormous.

In April the tree put out a ton of cheery white flowers, and I started being hopeful that it might actually bear fruit this year. Technically, an apple such as the Transparent can bear in as few as two years, and I think I grafted mine over three years ago. I’m happy to report that I went out early in May and found that one of the flowers had closed up and formed a tiny little apple.  It was just over a half-inch long. It didn’t look like there would be any more this year, and who knew if this one would even survive or be devoured by a single snail, but I was happy to see it anyway. Last week I checked again and not only had the first one grown to about an inch, but there was another tiny one lower down on the same branch.

I’m happy because this means that I can now declare success in my years-long quest to preserve and transport the family apple tree’s genetic legacy. These two little fruits are the very clone, the direct genetic offspring, of the old apple tree that grew all through my youth at 106th Avenue SE in Bellevue. If the two apples actually grow to size, we will make a small tart out of them. My mother can hardly wait to make apple pies from the Transparent again. For Mara particularly, this is a great story. She doesn’t really grasp yet what it means to me — she can’t because she has not yet that sense of time and loss of youth and the ages of trees — but she reads our excitement about it and she gets that it’s a big deal, she intuitively understands that it is important that we nurture this tree to maturity. The project was worth it to me for Mara’s journey alone. I cannot control what she remembers or values in her life, but I can fill her days with as many opportunities as possible to sense the wonder.

David drank this story in happily, as though it were lemonade. He noted that his own father planted 30 apple trees on their property before David was born, and that when he and each of his siblings were born his parents planted a cherry tree, and that subsequent owners cut down many of the apples but that the cherries remain. Further, he has known many Greek families whose forebears brought figs or other trees over from the old country and planted them here a hundred years ago, and they thrive and survive even today.

David did not have a copy of Lawrence’s book. Last week he had a beautiful hardback of it, but he sold it immediately, and why didn’t I come in last week? Where have I been lately?

I smiled and stepped back as a wave of customers approached him with questions and purchases, and I went out emptyhanded. No matter.  It’s really about the conversation. 

*This does not change the status of Island Books as my official neighborhood bookstore.

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7 Responses to “More about the trees”


  1. 1 Marni June 4, 2010 at 21:23

    Okay….haven’t even read the whole thing but….it’s okay, you don’t have to * another bookstore, I’m okay with it! Especially when it’s a). used, and/or b). independent, and most especially not c). online/viral.
    I’m sure I’ll comment more after I’ve read the whole thing….

    • 2 jstwndrng June 6, 2010 at 15:04

      Done reading? Or did you fall asleep. I know, I write so many words about such little things! David is definitely not online. He has email, but good luck. He’s an in-person kinda guy. You’d be charmed all the way out of your socks, Marni.

  2. 3 Ben June 6, 2010 at 09:24

    Ah yes, it does my heart good to know that the ole’ sour apples will once again grace a table. Perhaps one day my own children will experience the delight of cool whip on a pie made by Grandma, the perfect mixture of sour and sweet.

    • 4 jstwndrng June 6, 2010 at 15:09

      I’m sure those days are not far off. It’s too bad I didn’t get this into the ground the year before, or we might have been able to eat Grandma’s apple pie this fall when you lot come down for the festivities.

      I went out and checked after writing this post, and believe it or not that one little apple at the top is pulling the branch down. Size of a ping-pong ball now.

  3. 5 Invisible Mikey June 7, 2010 at 17:38

    I’m a real fan of your posts on nostalgic themes, Matt. I want them to go on and on.


  1. 1 A friend for the streetcorner « Just Wondering Trackback on February 23, 2011 at 23:18

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