How many of us have made promises that, no matter how hard we tried, and often through no fault of our own, could not keep? Twice married and divorced, I know the feelings of guilt, remorse and failure all too well. Many promises to myself, for one reason or another, remain dishonoured. Circumstances change. Other events step in, side-tracking or blocking. It’s part of life.
When I moved here, more than five years ago, I promised myself I would have a bountiful and thriving vegetable garden, and increase the fruit trees in the ‘orchard’ from three apricots, one nectarine and one almond. The lemon tree, always a battler in its previous home, was carefully dug up, and came with me. Its battle continues and I am yet to harvest a single lemon, in what is nearing a decade. For one who believes in the health benefits of lemon juice, hot water and honey, first thing in the morning to get my system up and running, the lack of my own produce rankles. Still, all I can do is persist, and wait and see if the current meagre batch of small, green lemons hang in there. Or, as previously, fall as babies from the cradle of leaves to the ground.
With fond memories of sitting beside my grandmother in her suburban backyard, while we shared slices of fresh-picked Jonathans – sans sections containing codling moth – I really wanted an apple tree, or two. The first winter I was here, I planted a Jonathan and a Granny Smith. The Jonathan seemed doomed from the start. It never really established and after the first summer looked woeful. The pear and peach trees planted at the same time were faring marginally better. The only tree with a good tolerance for the whims of nature, and different-from-the-pot soil was the Granny Smith.
That first year came the cricket plague. I can chuckle, now. At the time, watching the black tide sweep across my precious, so-longed-for two acres, I was beside myself. Overnight they ring-barked the peach, almond and nectarine (well-established) and made inroads on the pear and Jonathan apple trees. None survived. Too late, that year, I discovered the joys of molasses solution, left in receptacles around the yard – fatal lures for black crickets.
In subsequent years, when the crickets arrived (marked on the calendar!) I was prepared. Visiting ibis also had me cheering as they ate their share. I planted a mandarin and cherry tree, and had replaced Jonathan, in a different location. Three years on, I look at Jonnie and figure maybe my great-grandchildren could sit under him, long after I’m gone.
Meanwhile, Granny Smith survived. In her third season, a small cluster of heavy and healthy green apples boomeranged the slim trunk to the ground. I relished two of the apples. Marauding parrots enjoyed the other three.
There is something about well-meaning friends who do not listen to a plea from the heart. “I’ll whipper-snip for you,” he offered. “Wonderful,” I replied. “But please leave the areas around the young trees, especially in the orchard. I’ll weed those by hand.”
I’m really not sure what urged me to check on Granny Smith, but I’m certain my outrage was heard all over the district. Not only completely ring-barked in a three-finger width, she also bore nicks and scrapes the entire length of her svelte trunk. A dash into town to the local nursery elicited the assurance that Granny Smith was beyond saving. Home again, I fired up Mr Google. There had to be something I could do, and quickly, before the sun finished what my ‘friend’ had initiated – the death of Granny.
I was always under the impression that the roots fed the tree. But, without natural sugars returning down the trunk from the leaves, there is no health or growth. It’s all about balance, Mother Nature’s aim. A sharp knife to tidy the wound, honey, damp sphagnum moss and plastic wrap on hand, I set to, tending and bandaging the critical injury.
Over the ensuing days and weeks, I checked (obsessively), watered, and pleaded with Granny to fight for her life. The delight and satisfaction of seeing new leaves budding was fantastic. She was not only surviving, but actually growing!
The cockatoos arrived with the summer. I do love those raucous birds. Though my ardour cooled a tad when one of them snipped off Granny’s crown and discarded the leafy stalk to wither and die. Ever tenacious, she put out a new branch, no more than a twig. I rejoiced to see buds and leaves appear, followed by a single bunch of blossom.
Then came the deluge, and river frontage for a day. Granny’s blossom endured torrential rain and gale-force winds. Oblivious to a fence broken by a fallen tree, snapped like a matchstick, I sat in a Ballarat waiting room. A text message asked if the cows were supposed to be in my property. No.
In my absence, friends and the owner of the small herd remedied the situation. Home after dark, I was out at first light the following morning, assessing the damage. Walking the boggy ground, I took care not to twist an ankle. The entire block was polka-dotted with deep hoof holes. The bovines had sampled, munched, pruned and bulldozed. They had walked up and down the steps, dislodging pavers with their weight, and checked out the bungalow (door closed, thank goodness). I checked on Granny. The promise of apples was forfeit. No petal remained. In my mind, I saw the cow’s massive tongue, licking off the delicate blossom.
This year, struggling with my own health, I was unprepared for the crickets, molasses buckets empty. Granny Smith has finally succumbed, her bandage tattered, trunk flayed. I will leave the stick, all she is, in place during the coming winter, but hold no real hope for her resurrection. Cherry, another stick, stands nearby.
The image accompanying this post is a memorial to a tough lady who bore too many hard knocks.
Notes on the Print and Process
Like Granny’s fight for survival, the printmaking process was fraught with hitches, and glitches. It mystifies me why the Caligo Safe Wash ink takes far longer to dry than the Graphic oil-based variety. Changes in the weather and humidity no doubt did not help. Even when we cannot see it, paper absorbs moisture. I think those same conditions, while the prints were drying between colours, contributed to the registration being out a smidgen (lining up of one colour over another, critical with reduction printing). It is noticeable more on two out of the four prints.
Dissatisfied with the background, after the stem and blossom were complete, I decided I needed ‘texture’ and shadow. I used a piece of hand-cut foam ‘lattice’, glued to a rolling pin, in one pass, and sponged on some darkness in a final pass.
Due to the last two techniques of applying ink, the print is part of a variable edition (V E) – all from the same block and run, but all varying slightly, making each one an ‘original’ original hand-pulled print.
The photo is a bit ‘iffy’ as the ink was still drying.