Fruit From The Heavens
And Seeds of Pears
With the yearly nostalgic crunch of Autumn leaves under his boots and the wind rushing through the trees, Charlie stood atop the small boulder and breathed in the new day with a euphoric calming gaze. He had his brand new camera and was ecstatic to make the familiar trek into the woods at the Old Stone Fort Park.
There were various paths which took you on slightly different adventures, but he mostly liked following the stream and sitting next to the waterfalls. Charlie was always mesmerized by the loud rush of the water crashing down below. If you get close enough, it’s all you can hear. This rush and roar of high pitches and deep tones. They seemed to erase all other thoughts from his mind and pulled him into a sort of state of tranquility. The mist gently spraying his face as the wind crept along the back of his neck and he shivered as his skin sprinkled with goosebumps.
Charlie spent years trying to find a sense of peace that didn’t include escaping via negative vices. He tried to fill an empty hole within himself with pain-killers and alcohol, but it turned out only to be a black hole that could never be filled and only sucked away the last good bits of his true self until there was only a void. A negative space in him without meaning or focus.
He had fought a decade of this disease right up until the death of his mother. She died from too many years of opiates, vodka and failed attempts at loving herself. Watching her suffer and die in the ICU was the starting point of his new found life. He never really wanted to blame his problems on her, but he had always longed to know a mother’s love. However she was gone now and he had no choice but to move on and change directions in life. He didn’t want to end up in the hospital like her. Cirrhosis was the only death he ever witnessed and it was terrifying for him.
Charlie was five years sober today and he wanted to celebrate it by doing the one thing he loved most: taking nature photos.
He was captured by the tiniest of insects and mushrooms and intricate patterns in the trees and plants. The many layers of limestone, the orange and yellow leaves against lavender plants, the bright red beetles on a sliver of grass. They were all moments to discover. Through his lens he could see whole other magnificent tiny microscopic worlds and he wanted to bring them to life through his photographs.
Charlie picked up his camera bag and headed down the long path to where the river turns into a gentle trickling stream. The babbling brooks and birds in trees and the moisture in the air under the cloudy cool sky entangled with all his senses. Scents of oak trees and wet rock and moss filled his every inhalation.
As he was balancing himself on the slippery rocks, he noticed a flash of white in the distance, but it was only for just a second. He thought maybe it was a piece of fabric caught in some branches. Curious, he followed a path back up into the forest to see what it was. When he got to the location, he saw no individual or any white object.
He shrugged his shoulders and went deeper into the woods because he could hear a woodpecker nearby. He hadn’t taken a shot of a red-headed woodpecker yet and really wanted it for his collection and to give it to his father.
Up he climbed the roots and rocks, only stopping to take pictures of caterpillars and interesting shapes in the knots of trees.
As Charlie panned his camera through and between the trunks, he saw the white figure through his lens for just a mere fraction of a second. He quickly tried to take a picture, but it was gone faster than the flick of his flash. “That’s so odd”, he murmured out loud.
Now determined to find the mysterious figure, he went deeper into the trees and thicket. The sun was setting and it started to turn the forest amber, green and grey.
He trampled through spider webs and tripped over roots until he spotted a clearing ahead. As he emerged from the pines and oaks and thorns, he saw a stunning field lined with an orange-tinted tall grass with a single tree in the middle. The overgrowth of grass was about half his size at around three feet tall.
The wind picked up and he stood there mesmerized by the way the grass bent and swayed like that of small ocean waves. He walked into the field with his hand outstretched letting the tips, of what seemed to be wheat, tickle the palms of his hand. The vast field, completely encompassed by trees, felt like he had just entered a whole other part of the world. Where he just came from and where he was now, were like two different paintings from two entirely different artists.
But, something felt peculiar about this place. Even familiar.
He grabbed his camera once again and started taking photos of the waving wheat field as dusk began creeping over the hillside. To his astonishment, his photos were all of a sudden blurry but with these odd white lights floating around. At first he thought the lens was dirty so we took his cleaning cloth and gave it a polish. But, that didn’t help either. He took one shot after another in rapid succession. Nothing. He altered his aperture and even changed out the lens. Still, it was only blurs of tan and orange and the grey sky with specks of light.
As he grew nearer to the tree he was immediately taken aback as he realized a woman was standing there by the tree in the middle of the field. She was standing with her back to him. She had long brown hair and seemed to be wearing a long white pajama-styled dress. One hand outstretched reaching for something in the tree.
“Ma’am? Are you okay?”, Charlie calmly called out. Yet she didn’t turn and kept reaching for something from a limb.
He again tried to quietly get her attention as to not startle her, but his words seemed to have no effect.
He pushed through the thick grass and moved towards the mysterious white figure. As he grew closer, he saw what she grabbed. It was a pear. There was a pear tree in the middle of the field. He thought it to be rather unusual as there were not any fruit-bearing trees in the park.
He called out in a hush again and the woman still would not turn around. He did think what a beautiful shot it would be in the last bits of light of the day, so he tried to take one more photo.
To his astonishment, the tree was as clear as day, but the woman didn’t appear in the photo.
For a moment he felt this frightening urge to run, to run as fast as the wind was blowing west. Instead he stayed, body stiffened and his toes curled and his stomach heavy. He froze like a startled deer as he suddenly realized that the silhouette of the woman was too familiar. Step by step he forced himself towards the tree and the woman staring out into the sky. One hand with a pear and the other propped against the tree.
Finally he came to the small clearing just beneath the tree limbs.
“Uhm, is everything alright?”
Charlie didn’t know what else to say. Was this all in his mind? Who would be out here in white pajamas in the dark anyways? He stood there and watched the wind pick up her hair as she ever so slowly turned to look west.
“Mom?!”, Charlie gasped.
“Mom? Is that you?”
The profile of her lips curled upward into a smile as the figure, his mother, slowly began to turn to face him.
There, in the light of the evening dusk, stood his very mother who died five years ago. Except now, she wasn’t jaundiced and swollen from the cirrhoses. She wasn’t sixty years old. Instead, she looked to be in her 30’s, just like when he was a little boy and when she was healthy and sober.
With Charlie’s mouth wide open, he fell to his knees……gazing in awe upon this wondrous and glowing figure, smiling and staring brightly into his eyes.
“Hi Charlie”, said his mother.
“Mom!”, he cried as tears poured down his cheeks and into the soil below, “How are you here?!”
“Charlie, my beautiful boy. I’m so sorry”, said the woman as she stepped slowly towards him.
“I’m so sorry for everything I did to fail you. I’m sorry I poisoned my body. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you face the very same demons I was facing.”
Charlie’s throat tightened so hard it felt like the whole world was gripping and pulling at his throat and vocal chords. He couldn’t speak. He could only stare at his beautiful mother as she stood there in the moonlight.
“I’m so proud of you. You’ve come so far, so much further than I ever could. I’m so sorry I didn’t love you the way I should have.”
Charlie, no longer able to control his body, fell into the soft cool earth and sobbed and gasped for air. He could feel the touch of her hand on his head and for a moment he flinched, but then settled into the quiet solid ground as her hands caressed his head.
Charlie, still staring into the dirt and eyes blinded with burning tears, forced out the shaken words “I forgive you. I love and miss you so much. But……but I still don’t understand how you’re here.”
She grabbed underneath his chin and pulled up his reddened wet face. “I’m sorry I couldn’t see all the love I had from everyone when I was here.” She gestured out as if pointing to the entire Universe. His mother took his dirt covered hands and softly placed the pear in them. He momentarily paused, confused by the cool fruit in his palms.
“This tree has been growing for many years and has now beget this fruit. It has been plucked from its life source and now is the time to enjoy it and let it nourish you before its life ends and is once again returned to the soil it was made from.”
Charlie tightened his grip on the pear and then mustered the courage to look straight into her eyes. They were a glistening beautiful brown color with her dark brunette hair and olive skin. Her smile was filled with so much energy and kindness that he couldn’t help but smile in return. He had never seen her so calm and genial. It was her…..but wasn’t her. It was like she was what he’d always wanted her to be or how he’d imagined her to be if she’d only lived a different life. Soft, kind, nurturing.
“Mom, will I ever see you again?”
She looked up and into the starry moonlit sky.
“You will see parts of me every time you pass a forest, smell the scent of cedar, dance to your favorite song, capture a leaf blowing in the wind. You will hear me in the streams and in your heartbeat. And, when your time comes for your physical body to become only the soul, I’ll be there every step of the way.”
And as soon as her words were spoken, his camera light flashed all by itself in a burst of multiple bright and blinding moments. It was sudden and startling for it was nightfall. As he tried to focus his eyes back into the darkness, she was gone.
Sitting in the dirt, he held up the pear and gazed at its shape and ran his fingers along its smooth curves. He looked to the sky as the full moon began edging its way across the stars. As he stared off into the night, he put the pear to his lips and dug his teeth in. Juice flowed down and mixed in with the salt of his tears as they dripped from his chin. His lungs gave one more gasp as he felt the sweet fruit lay against his tongue. He closed his eyes and thought about all the moments his mother had missed since she died. He had accomplished so much and so often he felt disheartened that he wasn’t able to share it with his mother. But as he chewed and swallowed the wet sweet fruit and thought back on her words, he understood that she’d been there all along…..watching over him and guiding him.
One foot in front of the other, he pushed himself up and stood tall looking out over the white moonlit field. The wind still churning the tall grass like ripples of water. The knock of the woodpecker echoed out over the field as he wiped away his tears. In his hands laid the eaten pear and he took the seeds from its pit and placed them in his pocket and sighed the deepest sigh of relief his body could possibly give him. Like an exhalation of bits of hardened ash and nails and pain built up over nearly 40 years, his whole body seemed to finally let go.
“I love you too, Mom”, and off he went through the dancing grass, listening to the rhythmic knocking of the woodpecker’s beak. Charlie swung his camera bag over his shoulders and started off through the field feeling truly free. For the very first time in his life……he felt that hole in his chest mending itself with both resolution and love.
- This piece is dedicated to my mother and my two brothers: Jean (rest in peace), Dylan and Tripp.