Last week I mixed up a yogurt container full of powdered clay, ground carbonatite (volcanic soil that is rich in minerals), and aloe vera juice. I wanted to make a poultice for a three-year-old Asian pear tree with a nasty crack along its trunk.
Nashi is the Japanese word for Asian pears. I first ate Nashi when I lived in Japan in the early 80’s and was studying the Noh Theater. Round and with a sharp crunch like an apple, they have the light color and texture of a pear. What is most remarkable about this fruit is the amount of sweet juice that you get with every bite. Most Asian pears you buy in the grocery store are overripe and the taste has already started to sour. But taste them fresh, and they sparkle.
I knew once I started to grow apples that I wanted to also grow Asian pears. We planted the first twelve trees in the orchard among the apple trees. Their fourth year, I watched them flower and then waited anxiously for the fruit. Lovely golf ball-size Asian pears dangled from the branches.
Then early one July morning, when I was walking out to the meditation hut behind the orchard, I saw only the swaying stems. I felt like my mind was deceiving me. What happened to the pears? There was not one fruit left on any of the trees. The deer had been thorough!
The following spring, I moved these trees to an area near the house with the hopes that they would be protected by proximity to the household’s activity. The trees grew and produced fruit, and the deer left them alone. We had five years of bountiful harvests and decided to grow more of these delicious fruits. I knew deer protection would be mandatory.
We put a fence around the old potato field across from the orchard and planted 32 trees — 8 different varieties on a diagonal grid in order of ripening date. Here, we don’t mow, and I plant every kind of native wildflower I find growing on the farm or that friends offer.
In high summer when I check on the trees I wend my way through 5 foot tall (and I’m only 5’ 2”) purple asters, red and purple bee balm, feverfew, mugwort, mint, comfrey—a dense abundance of texture and color. It’s here that I also planted the goumi, aronia, and goji berries. And there’s a blueberry bush with fruit hidden from the birds, which I am tending for a friend who moved and didn’t want to lose his plant. I love seeing the diversity and discovering what grows well together and what doesn’t.
I’m most interested in seeing if growing the pears in a natural environment will help them be healthier and have fewer pest issues. Some people say that the trees will be stunted because of the competition from other plants, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Maybe the competition actually means that the trees have to grow strong roots to compete with the other plants for nutrients and water—or maybe they all live together – supporting each other like trees and plants in a forest.
I love being inside this fertile environment. It’s not completely wild; it still needs care and attention. I pull the wild plants that I don’t want, the ones that could take over. Last spring, we had a sudden flush of velvetleaf, a weed that can be toxic to some plants by inhibiting their water uptake. I simply pulled all of it, and it hasn’t come back, though its seeds can incubate in the ground for decades. Vetch also wends its way through among the pears. Vetch is a nitrogen fixer, but it is invasive and cloying and will take over—so vetch also gets pulled and removed. It’s selective chaos, but the beauty is that there is no right or wrong, no hard and fast rules.
But even a Garden of Eden has problems. The tree that I poulticed a week ago has not improved; in fact, it has worsened. Its leaves are drying up. And the few other pear trees that I noticed had smaller, but similar cracks also have some drying leaves. I am concerned that it is fire blight, a bacterial disease that can rapidly travel from tree to tree. But usually fire blight shows up first in a few branches. I’ve had some in the orchard and can usually prune out those branches. But this is in the middle of the main trunk. I have spent hours reading and researching and still don’t know for sure.
Each day I walk by, and it is getting worse. I can’t bear the thought of losing this tree. I’ve lost so many trees over the years, and I feel like I've been too lax. I’ve accepted their deaths knowing I would transplant another. But I no longer feel that way. I’ve become more aware of the preciousness of each one, and my older, more casual attitude is shifting. It’s not that I want to be melodramatic – but I want to do all that I can to save this tree.
Research is getting me nowhere, so I am going to stop further reading and go out there and use every iota of intuition I have to see if there is anything else I can do to help this tree. To begin with I scratched away the weeds that were very close to its trunk, dug away some of the soil and replaced it with more carbonatite. I carried it a 5-gallon bucket of water to the tree and gave it a juicy drink. I know this hot weather isn’t helping any of our perennial plants flourish.
I remembered a spiritual teacher’s suggestion. “Intention equals outcome,” he said. “Keep these words plastered over your eyes.” I fully recognize the challenge of really staying with my intention — not drifting off, becoming distracted, or somehow rationalizing that this one pear tree’s life isn’t that important.
I also see how I create boundaries of what I think I can and cannot do. What if we each really committed to helping the person or creature we happened to meet next? I think we would change our world. Perhaps we are actually afraid of our true power. In response to last week's blog on creativity, a friend wrote, “We shrink from our own magnificence . . . .” When I read, magnificence, I felt a tremor through my body. “No, not me.” But maybe that’s the catch — we have to own our power and be humble. Despite my efforts the pear tree might not survive. But given the recent tragedies in the world, we have to gather every particle of our magnificence to counter with good.