My spunky little peach tree, first blighted by a spring cold snap and then defoliated by a plague of ravenous bugs in 2017, keeps on keeping on. She bloomed her heart out this spring and now is studded with fruit. - - My peach tree (June 3, 2018)
This week I completed a yearlong daily writing project. My first entry was the one that began this post (June 3, 2018), a few sentences about a young peach tree in my front yard. There was a great peach harvest last year, with so many peaches that I made a big batch of peach chutney. It was remarkable considering what had happened in 2017. After an accident in mid-summer I was pretty badly hurt. During my recovery a swarm of hungry bugs attacked my beloved peach tree. First it looked like a flame thrower had scorched a few branches and then the whole tree slowly succumbed. Crippled by my accident, I watched helplessly from the living room window as every single leaf dropped off. To make matters worse, the Internet, conveyer of all wisdom, said bug infestations like that one can kill young vulnerable trees.
When I was strong enough, I hobbled into the yard and hammered some treated fertilizer pellets in the ground all around the skeletal tree. Then tree and I waited and hoped. Irma's rain helped the treatment dissolve and not long after the peach was covered in leaf buds and there were healthy green leaves erupting from the tips.
I decided to let my peach tree rest a little bit this year and didn't fertilize it in the fall. As a result, the peach harvest was much smaller this spring -- but the peaches were gorgeous things, full of color and with the most delicious peachy smell. (Probably because there wasn't so much competition draining the reserves of my young tree.) But there's a twist to this story. I went out to check on the peach tree late last week, and as I came down the front steps I noticed a peach at the foot of the staircase. It was nibbled halfway down and discarded. More bad news to come. The squirrels had stripped the peach tree clean, except for one lone peach at the top of a very high branch. I picked it and brought it in the house to finish ripening near the kitchen window.
Now for the lesson in the peach.
There's a Chinese myth about peaches and the goddess Hsi Wang Mu who lives on the snowy peaks of K'un-lun, the home of the Immortals. Every six thousand years Hsi Wang Mu has a birthday celebration which is called ‘the Feast of Peaches.’ The date for the festival exactly coincides with the ripening of the immortal peaches.
According to Taoist myth, the peach orchards of Hsi Wang Mu leaf out once every three thousand years but it is only after an additional three thousand years that the trees bear a season of fruit. The banquet to celebrate this event takes place on the shores of the Yao Ch’ih (Lake of Gems) and is attended by all of the Immortals. The feast includes such delicacies as dragon liver and phoenix marrow. However, the highlight of the banquet is the, rarest of rare, Immortal Peach, which has the magical property of bestowing immortality on all who taste it.
What's the lesson here -- besides a few fundamentals of peach tree maintenance? The peach tree is not so remarkable if you consider all the troubles that come with keeping her healthy. And from year to year the challenge of bringing her to fruit can be daunting. Who needs that? But I love her anyway. She is a lesson in patience, as all things garden are. She requires more care and more time that you think she should, as all things garden do. But it's something more, it's the story we have shared together, the peach tree and me, since I came back to Georgia, a story measured in planting and budding and blooming and fruit.
Every year when my peach tree fruits I think about that lovely myth of The immortal peach. This year was no different. Then the squirrels crashed the birthday party. But, in the end, there was a single peach, protected in the highest branches of the tree, and somehow that seems right. Earlier this week I ate the immortal peach. It was completely wonderful, the best fruit so far. As for next year, I'll remember all the lessons the peach tree has taught me and I'll be buying squirrel nets.