Industrial Arts...

Eva Murray: Apple blossom time

Posted:  Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 6:45am

Story Location:
Matinicus  Maine
United States

I really, genuinely, seriously love this time of year on Matinicus Island.

There are two reasons for this sloppy excess of gratuitous sentiment. First, these few weeks of spring (well, spring-ish) represent the last bit of unstructured time in my life before a busy summer. I have a small summer business that requires all-day every-day attention, and before this month is out I'll be rising each morning in the dark. Second, and perhaps more important: it is apple blossom time.

Apple blossom time is a brief annual arboreal extravaganza on Matinicus, and something rather special we have going around here that doesn't get a lot of attention. Nobody sells postcards with photos of apple trees, although that wouldn't be a bad idea, and nobody prints T-shirts of island apple blossoms, like they do puffins and lobsters and boats. Some years the display of flowers on these trees is really quite astonishing. The few tourists we get in July and August are making a mistake not considering apple blossom time as a big-deal tourism event similar to the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. No, you will not want to lounge around on the beach, but to be perfectly frank it isn't always warm and sunny out here in July, either. The scenery, however, is spectacular, and part of the beauty is its impermanence, its transience. Apple blossoms don't last long.

The apple trees of Matinicus are scattered all over, in various states of neglect and disrepute. Most of the island is covered in spruce, and most of that forest dates from the 1940s and 50s, when islanders lost interest in agriculture and animal husbandry and the fields and pastures grew to softwood. Spruce trees, in the words of the old-timers, are weeds. The wind batters and twists the black spruce and the red spruce, and almost none of it is fit for saw logs, and nobody sings its praises as firewood except they consider the price. I burn it, a lot of it, because it's free. The apple trees are this island's most significant hardwood, and if you get a bit of apple in your wood-box, you are a happy islander.

I am not sure of their history; certainly some were once cultivated trees in dooryards, back when the year-round population was ten times what it is now. There is some speculation that generations of school kids, tossing apple cores as they walked, were responsible for many trees so close to the roads. Maybe. Apple trees grown from seed tend not to grow true to any particular variety, and most of these trees have no identification. We're working on that. This year I have invited several apple growers and arborists to come to the island and perhaps give a talk or take a few of us interested neighbors on a walk; we'll see if we can make some sense of these gnarly old trees with their barely-edible apples. Regardless of age, type and usefulness of the crop, the trees are gloriously bedecked for a week or two in the spring, and that is happening right now.

We don't always get spring, and we don't often get a lot of it. Spring, here, is sort of an abstraction, a hypothetical concept. Today, as I write — a couple days ago now, as you read — it was in the 40s and blowing hard, a raw, cold day hardly like June at all. I ran a wood fire in my kitchen. The weather made it feel like late March, except that in March people are wrathful, and grouchy, and it gets dark early still, and the prevailing outdoor color scheme is brown. Things aren't as bad as all that now.

People generally think about enjoying time on an island as having to do with a good view, where you can sit watching the sea, and probably a few lobsters for supper. Visitors think of lighthouses, puffins, boat rides, more lobster, maybe the beach, maybe long walks, maybe island parties when there are no rules but there are fireworks and unlimited beverages and a lobster in every casserole — or just relaxing on the deck during summer vacation. But of course, not everybody in Maine gets a summer vacation. Instead — and you know this already — a great many of us who live on the coast find summer to be "crunch time," overdrive, double-shift busy. It's work season. For those of us who tend out on the vacationers all summer, we search for other times of year to enjoy these remarkable environs. September and October are reliably gorgeous. For a week or two on this island, so is the beginning of June, when it's apple blossom time.

Life is still apt to be on the quieter side. On a chilly day, one can still walk island roads and meet nobody, which is rather nice. Yet the songbirds are here. I don't care if it is cold — the days are long, and when it doesn't happen to be foggy the sky is bright, and the air smells unusually good. There are no boats on the guest moorings in the harbor, no renters in the cottages, no bakery requiring that I, the proprietor, get in a half day's work before breakfast — but most of the regulars are back, and we don't need mittens, and there is some color in the landscape to entertain the eye. I'd say we are right in the middle, and that this is a "Goldilocks" time of year: just right.

This time of year — even if it is cold — is precious. These days are the end of my sleeping late, the end of my unstructured mornings of hanging around in fuzzy slippers, lingering over multiple cups of coffee made on the fire in the old-time percolator. Very soon, I will have to get dressed first thing every morning, and be ready for the public. The un-brushed hair and barefoot lifestyle will have to end soon, the house will have to be made orderly, the surfaces scrubbed, the coffee made on time, and the clock will be important again, at least until Labor Day.

But for another week or so, it's apple blossom time.

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