Published in Portsmouth Herald, Op-Ed Sunday Edition

How do you like them apples?

Contemplate, for a moment, that simple fruit and all of its wonders since the beginning of time.

Once upon an apple . . . What if every fairy tale started with this phrase instead of the one we know so well, carved into the tree of our collective memory like lover's initials? It would seem that apples, like time, have a special place in our history, culture, religions, and have carried over into our everyday speech rhythms. It all began with Eve - that infamous temptress who caused Adam to fall off the apple cart of ignorant bliss into a place of knowledge - for better or worse. Originally a symbol of sin, the apple has had several incarnations over the years, including keeping the doctor at arm's length, bribing your teacher for a better grade, as well as being right up there with baseball and moms (when baked into a pie) to symbolize a nation's wholesome goodness.

We've bobbed for apples, blindfolded with hands tied behind our backs ... what Marquis de Sade thought up this children's game with a rather freakish tendency toward bondage and drowning? We've climbed gnarled trees in other people's orchards to pick them and bring home more apples than any one family can consume. We've peppered our language with sassy sayings like, "How do you like them apples?" and used the apple descriptively to denote both good and bad personality traits. Being the apple of someone's eye is preferable to being the tainted "bad" apple that spoils the bunch.

We've shown one another the trick of cutting an apple width-wise to reveal the star formation that the seeds make — one of life's little happy mysteries like finding doves inside of sand dollars.

For me, crab apples will always hold a special place on my those-were-the-days nostalgia shelf. Growing up, we had the most magnificent blossoming crab apple tree that was highly climbable and snowed pink petals like fairy wings; each spring a returning mini-miracle to an 8-, 9-, or 10-year-old.

One of my saddest/funniest kidhood moments was the day my dear across-the-street friend Amy and I were bouncing rather too exuberantly on a branch that gave way with a sickening crack . . . tumbling us to the ground 4 feet below. We laughed so hard once we realized neither of us was injured, but we both sobered up when we saw the raw and splintered place we'd left on our beautiful playmate.

At some point, the tree was cut down — a travesty that was overshadowed by pre-teen crushes on boys, no doubt. Apple season always signaled the end of summer and and time to buy fresh new spiral notebooks, scratchy wool sweaters and the promise of snow on the distant horizon. From the first associations with Creation mythology where the fruit from the tree of knowledge was a red shiny you-know-what, to a symbol of a mega-giant in the technology industry, we have a fascination with the apple that just keeps evolving.

Mulling the apple's role

Along the journey, the apple has endured being poisoned in a fairy tale of vanity—"mirror, mirror" style, it has been squeezed and pressed and liquefied and mulled and yet it persists — reinventing itself far more times than even Madonna can claim.

Why the apple — instead of say, the papaya or some more exotic, tropical and pulpy fruit? In the orchard of our choice, we have picked (pun intended) a fleshy, red (sometimes yellow or green) fruit to represent countless things. Do other countries have such potent associations with fruit? One thinks of grapes in France, peaches in Japan, dates in Morocco, even bananas in South America - but is it the same? I think not. There may be a deeper, older story than even Biblical reference. Which came first? The apple or the seed? Only Johnny Appleseed really knows the answer to that one. It's one of the first words we teach our kids — is that merely an alphabetical fluke? We consume apples in their fruity abundance all year round, yet know that the best apples precede the foliage's brilliant display. It is the famous line "from ashes you were
born and to ashes will you return" that springs from the Eden fable. A maudlin thought at best. We Americans like to think we are immortal and omnipotent. We have embraced the apple and all its knowledge and try to make sense of why naked is bad and serpents are to be feared. Freud had his own theories of course, but I'm not sure I agree with his oversimplifications of human nature. The truth is — we can make anything mysterious or simple — it's all up to us. Just look at the multitudes of ways we've perceived something that most of us take for granted.

Makes you wonder what else we're missing.

Tempting Fruit

Was Clinton seduced by the apples in Monica's cheeks just as Eve was the cause of Adam's fall from grace?

Hmmm . . . that's a stretch, but when did the idea of a temptress wielding her sexuality as the forbidden fruit weapon begin? Perhaps the fable simply captures the human inclination toward the dance of desire in all its glorious naughtiness? Whether we choose to see the apple with a biblical slant or simply as an eye catcher in the produce section may all depend on how deeply we feel the need to contemplate our daily lives. This introspection can be accomplished using anything — patterns, things, places and the emotions they evoke as a tap into our intuitive natures. Do I think we should have candlelit ceremonies and worship the God of the Orchards? No. But it's amazing what you can find out about yourself when you look a little deeper at an ordinary object and let your mind wander at will. It can be an apple, grapefruit, kumquat or plum that leads you to some little epiphany about grace. Or it can teach us to be grateful, for all that we have rather than bemoaning what fancy toy we haven't yet acquired.

Next time you're feeling stressed try this: Sit on a mat under a tree and eat an apple slowly, all the way to the core. You just might reach another core that eludes us — a column of seeds waiting to spring forth into growth. Twist the stem around keeping track of the twists in time to the alphabet, whichever letter you land on when the stem breaks off is the first letter of the last name of your one true love. Put this paper down — go pick some apples, bake a pie, eat it with loved ones a la mode, and don't miss the daily lessons all around us; let them bear fruit to you and you can't help but flourish.


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