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The Apple-Tree The Open Country Books-No. 1

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The wind is snapping in the bamboos, knocking together the resonant canes and weaving the myriad flexile wreaths above them. The palm heads rustle with a brisk crinkling music. Great ferns stand in the edge of the forest, and giant arums cling their arms about the trunks of trees and rear their dim jacks-in-the-pulpit far in the branches; and in the greater distance I know that green parrots are flying in twos from tree to tree. The plant forms are strange and various, making mosaic of contrasting range of leaf-size and leaf-shape, palm and grass and fern, epiphyte and liana and clumpy mistletoe, of grace and clumsiness and even misproportion, a tall thick landscape all mingled into a symmetry of disorder that charms the attention and fascinates the eye.

It is a soft and delicious air wherein I sit. A torrid drowse is in the receding landscape. The people move leisurely, as befits the world where there is no preparation for frost and no urgent need of laborious apparel. There are tardy bullock-carts, unconscious donkeys, and men pushing vehicles. There are odd products and unaccustomed cakes and cookies on little stands by the roadside, where the turbaned vendor sits on the ground unconcernedly.

There are strange fruits in the carts, on the donkeys that move down the hillsides from distant plantations in the heart of the jungle, on the trees by winding road and thatched cottage, in the great crowded markets in the city. I recognize coconuts and mangoes, star-apples and custard-apples and cherimoyas, papayas, guavas, mamones, pomegranates, figs, christophines, and the varied range of citrus fruits. There are also great polished apples in the markets, coming from cooler regions, tied by their stems, good to look at but impossible to relish; and I understand how these people of the tropics think the apple an inferior fruit, so successfully do the poor varieties stop the desire for more. There are vegetables I have never seen before.

I am conscious of a slowly moving landscape with people and birds and beasts of burden and windy vegetation, of prospects in which there are no broad smooth farm fields with fences dividing them, of scenery full of herbage, in which every lineament and action incite me and stimulate my desire for more, of days that end suddenly in the blackness of night.

Yet, somehow, I look forward to the time when I may go to a more accustomed place. Either from long association with other scenes or because of some inexpressible deficiency in this tropic splendor, I am not satisfied even though I am exuberantly entertained. Something I miss. For weeks I wondered what single element I missed most. Out of the numberless associations of childhood and youth and eager manhood it is difficult to choose one that is missed more than another. Yet one day it came over me startlingly that I missed the apple-tree,—the apple-tree, the sheep, and the milch cattle!

The farm home with its commodious house, its greensward, its great barn and soft fields and distant woods, and the apple-tree by the wood-shed; the good home at the end of the village with its sward and shrubbery, and apple roof-tree; the orchard, well kept, trim and apple-green, yielding its wagon-loads of fruits; the old tree on the hillside, in the pasture where generations of men have come and gone and where houses have fallen to decay; the odor of the apples in the cellar in the cold winter night; the feasts around the fireside,—I think all these pictures conjure themselves in my mind to tantalize me of home....