The following story is by guest contributor Helen Marshall.
I sat on the old rutted tree stump. Dad used it for chopping wood and I felt every scar through my jeans. The air was still and dense with fog. The orchard stood beyond my limited orb of vision, standing in soldier rows. Waiting patiently for my last visit.
I pulled my gum boots and socks off, and plunged my feet into the frosty grass. A shock surged through me as icy tentacles ran up my body.
I was twelve and the orchard was the only home I’d known. Tomorrow we’d be leaving to start a new life in the city. The shattering decision to leave the mountains had left me totally adrift. All that I knew was here, and I loved every part of it.
I stepped out onto the worn track between the trees, wanting all my senses to remember. Instinct guided me. Thousands of days directed my steps. The passage of feet had worn the track smooth and its texture guided my soles. Brittle leaves crunched and crumbled under my feet, returning to the earth.
I wanted to record my home with every sensation I possessed. The sight of it was already imprinted on my brain. I’m sure the other senses were too, but I needed to be certain.
The smell of early windfall fruit and damp earth drifted pungently in conflict with the fresh tartness of nearly ripe apples. Why was Dad moving now? The apples were nearly ripe! It didn’t make sense. But he had told us of his mother’s need to have her son close by. She was ailing and afraid. Illness was gnawing at her body and mind. She couldn’t face it alone. There was no-one else; they only had each other now.
A strong rope of cobweb pulled at my exposed neck. I knew that feeling: an orb spinner was the only one to spin such strength. I instinctively pulled back. I didn’t want to ruin his night’s dew-hung weaving. That was his home so I ducked and moved on.
The white air was still. Perfectly still and hushed. Distant sounds were hard to locate. Birds chattered softly, high up in the surrounding gums.
An unseen visitor nibbled quietly at a fallen apple. I couldn’t tell if it had two legs or four.
I held my face up to the feint nebulous glow of the morning sun. A tiny zephyr drifted across my face, almost imaginary, tickling a strand of hair.
The leaves touched each other with tiny silent slaps. I reached out and ran my hands through the heavily laden branches. The colours and shapes I knew so well brought the scene to my unseeing eyes.
I walked slowly to the end of the row and stood there breathing in the fresh cold air. Puffs of warm breath plumed and vanished. The skin on my face tingled and tightened.
I knew I would never experience this again. It had to last me for a lifetime.
I sit here now at eighty-three and remember those well recorded impressions. My sight is nearly gone, but my other senses still function well.
I was wrong about never experiencing the apple orchard again. Every time I crunch into a fresh juicy apple (these days cut into small slices), those parting moments in the mist flood back to my mind, and I relive them with the vigour of youth.