New England Yearly Meeting

A community of Quakers and Quaker meetings across New England.

Orchard Work—thinking about Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking”

May 1, 2019
Carl Williams, Plainfield (VT) Friends Meeting

My long two‐pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.

I gave a student my apple at lunch the other day, and he bit into it with such heartiness that I smiled, glad of my offer. I wonder— do I spend enough time in the orchard, picking fruit for the people around me? Do I give the best apple I can find, without hoarding it for myself? Without an expectation?

And then I start thinking of all the apples I’ve received, small kindnesses given me by friends and strangers—ones I realized and ones I received unknowingly. I imagine what it might look like if I took them and strung them together—what a garland they would make! Could I polish them and stack them in a bowl in the middle of the table like apples fresh from the tree on a sunny October afternoon? Perhaps I could make a pie and put it in the freezer for those moments when the world feels cold, and fruit feels far out of season.

One of the things that drew me to Friends' faith is the understanding that we are a community without laity; each of us has direct access to God. Our relationship with the Divine has no need of an intermediary nor do we need interpretation of the ever-unfolding Truth in our lives—an awareness that both creates immeasurable opportunity and, equally, burdens with vast responsibility. What a blessing that freedom gives my life—what direction and focus. It requires me to see the sacred not only in what comes into my life, but also in what I put out into others. The recognition that there is indeed "that of God" in my companions means that each interaction is a divine interaction.

There were ten thousand thousand
fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

We, each of us, spend our time working in the orchard. At harvest some of the fruit is kept, much is given away. Each apple an offering of Presence and if some are a bit battered or bruised, as cider or sauce they are still wonderful. There are an infinite variety of ways to share our lives and in finding them we harvest. Each of us carries the responsibility to give joy and comfort and loving challenge to others—to both experience the Divine as it’s expressed though them and share our Light with them. Whatever our life's work, whatever our ministry may be, it is in the sharing of our harvest that there is community, communion.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder‐round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend...
For I have had too much
Of apple‐picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.

The time will surely come, eventually, as in Frost's poem, that I am tired and my feet hurt from standing on the wobbly ladder. But until then I am lucky to be in the orchard, grateful to partake. Grace.

cdw 3.24.2019

New England Yearly Meeting of Friends

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