“Nothing Gold Can Stay” is one of my favorite Robert Frost poems – and, unfortunately, true.
My husband and I decided to move from our lovely small town of 9500 after our daughters were grown and on their own. It was a wonderful place to raise children. No huge district schools. The kids went from kindergarten through high school with familiar faces.
We were now ready for the country life. In 1993 we bought a small home on a big wooded acre in a rural township sprinkled with orchards and small farms.
There’s simply no stopping progress. As the housing boom grew by leaps and bounds, things changed. Little by little, farmers were selling off their orchards to developers. I can’t fault them. I’m sure it was a painful reality to those farmers whose children weren’t interested in continuing that lifestyle.
Each new housing development brought sadness to those of us who cherished the rural nature of our area. In October 2002, I wrote this essay for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
A bounty on the seasons – An orchard had a price put on it, then surrendered its fruitful phases to development.
By Judy Harch
They lie on their sides, mortally wounded. Row after row of uprooted apple and peach trees. Dead. No longer bearers of life. Their rotting offspring scattered on the ground ready to provide a final meal for foraging white-tailed deer.
Nature’s cycle has again been interrupted. Bulldozers have come and gone, leaving a scene reminiscent of rampaging elephants searching for food. They’ve pushed over hardy tree trunks as if they were matchsticks, and toppled anything in their path to make room for one more miniature housing development in my township.
Just one block from my house, a small, lovely peach and apple orchard had flourished each season since I moved here nine years ago. Delicate peach trees would signal each spring with their hazy pink blossoms bringing hope to the winter-weary. The craggy branches of apple trees would stand patiently, waiting for their turn to shine.
As spring ushered in summer, peach blossoms would disappear after gracing the ground with their pink blankets. Juicy, fat fruit would hang from branches that looked as if they would keel over with the richness of their bounty. Just as we were summer-weary with heat and South Jersey humidity, the apple trees would awaken.
Each summer, as I passed by this small window on nature’s world, I watched eagerly as tiny apples grew into the promise of fall – my favorite season. I happily passed by the fruit-packing house up the road. For just a few weeks, a delicious overlap would occur. Bins of late-summer peaches and early apples would sit side by side, reminding me of why New Jersey is called the Garden State.
As I reluctantly watched fall give way to winter, the orchards would continue to paint a portrait of natural wonder. The deceivingly fragile-looking naked branches of peach trees would stand in contrast to the rugged beauty of gnarled apple-tree branches, which would remind me of the evil witch’s outstretched hand as she offers Snow White a shiny piece of fruit. Both would survive the first glints of frost and the heavy coating of ice that winter storms sometimes leave.
But this year, the scene has been one of unnatural destruction. It has become a season of waste, which inherently goes against nature’s laws. The new “natural” cycle of my community has arrived again.
The first sign of spring was a “Lots for Sale” posting on the beautiful little orchard on the next block.
It is an inescapable fact of life that we are a litigious society. The orchard’s owners posted a “No Trespassing” sign for their own protection. The result is another glimpse of the impending death of the Garden State moniker.
As the orphaned peach trees bore fruit in the spring, I watched helplessly as they remained unpicked by all those honoring the “No Trespassing” sign. This year’s drought left the trees wilted and weak. Abandoned by their caretakers, they drooped heavily with the weight of their last gift of life. Inevitably, peaches fell to the ground as their trees slowly withered away.
I knew it was only a matter of time before the rugged apple trees would be put to the test. Could they survive neglect this fall? I didn’t have long to wait for my answer. A week ago, as I drove by the little orchard, I learned its fate. Row upon row of apple trees lay in ruins next to their companion peach trees.
I’m guessing that in the new “natural” order of life, someone will gather up the dead trees and chop them into firewood to be burned at the hearth in our newest crop of homes.
Update: Time and the realities of a down-turned economy moved forward since 2002. Growth of housing developments slowed somewhat. However, our orchards continue to vanish. I find it ironic that those buying new houses most likely move here looking for the very “country life” that is slipping away with each house sold. “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
(Image courtesy of dan at freedigitalphotos.net)