The Apple Was a Northern Invention
When she ate the pomegranate,
it was as if the seed
with its wet red shining coat
of sweet flesh clinging to the dark core
was one of nature’s eyes. Afterward,
it was nature that was blind,
and she who was wild
with vision, condemned
to see what was before her, and behind.
The poet Eleanor Rand Wilner has a different view on this most well-known ‘apple’ story. I’m not referring to the pomegranate versus apple question — that debate we may never resolve, but to Wilner's portrayal of Eve as ‘wild with vision,’ a seer and a mystic. The poet completely uproots the traditional portrayal of Eve as a fallen women unable to resist the tantalizing offer of the serpent.
The story of Adam and Eve is a collective, cultural invention. However, in my personal version, our sister Eve has been condemned for two thousand years because she satisfied her desire to taste the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, because she wanted to know the deep truth about who she was and the meaning of life.
Our Eve had much in common with Lalla or Lal Ded, the 14th century Hindi mystic poet, who also experienced her own expulsion. Married at twelve, starved, beaten, and abused by her husband and in-laws, Lalla was finally able to leave that household when she was in her twenties. She found spiritual teachers and eventually, her own divine wisdom.
I Lalla set forth blooming as a cotton flower
Then the carder and the cleaner kicked me again and again
Next a woman spun me and lifted me from her wheel as gossamer
And in the weaver's room they hung me as warp on the loom
~ Lalla 102
Then the washermen beat and dashed me on the stone
And rubbed me with clay and soap to whiten me
Then the tailor cut me piece by piece
Now, as finished cloth, I have found my way at last to Freedom
~ Lalla 103
Tr. Jennifer Sundeen
Lalla had to tear off the cloth of the society in which she was born and, piece by piece, remake herself from within. She danced naked through the streets, uttering verses that were remembered and passed down, adn then finally recorded 400 years later. A rebel, a seeker, she gave up the comforts of hearth and home to wander, always loving and always teaching. She didn’t follow a prescribed path or religious dogma, but discovered her own truths from within her own body.
Then there is Reinette Clochard, an old French variety, an apple we grow in the orchard. Reinette means ‘little Queen’ in French, and a clochard is a bum, a vagabond, a homeless person. Not only is this a strange name for an apple, but it is an odd juxtaposition of social classes. And why the queen and not the king? The apple is small in size, giving meaning to ‘little’ queen; but her mottled yellow color of skin is more like a wild apple found in the woods, an apple without regal color, one that Thoreau would have grabbed, bitten into, found to be hard, and delighted in its ordinariness. Reinette Clochard’s flesh is pale and soft, creamy, the opposite of the crunchy sweet apples preferred by many today. She can be kept easily at room temperature for several months. That’s why she used to be loaded onto ships for sailors to eat, their only fresh food.
In France, Reinette Clochard is making a comeback. She comes packaged in wooden boxes and is sold as a specialty apple. In our orchard, people disdain her. They don’t know what to make of the name or her appearance.
The apple season at Old Frog Pond Farm has reached its fullest expression. Pickers have been walking the orchard rows, counting the color-coded blocks on their maps to find the Honey Crisp and Crimson Crisp. Once these were picked out, they began picking Liberty and Freedom. Reinette Clochard remained on the tree, her ripe fruit finally falling to the ground, until I went out and rescued her.
And now, you may be wanting to ask, what does Eve, the mystic poet Lalla, and this old French apple have in common?
Apples originated in the forests of Kazakhstan, traveled along the Silk Road in horses’ bellies, and in the pockets of Roman soldiers through Europe and to England, and eventually to America. The apple carries within its skin poetic, mythological, geographic, social, and scientific history. As women, we belong to the lineage of expulsed women seers. We carry the seeds from these early destroyers of social conventions. We need to clamor loudly for what we want. Can you imagine being named little homeless queen? Surely no woman named this apple. We should reject the labels that society assigns us.
When I think of Eve, I see her as a nonconformist, a woman with the strength to go against convention. The same is true for the wild mystic Lalla. Sometimes I forget the lessons they both exemplify. I don’t allow myself to do what matters most to me, what connects me to my deepest roots, or speak my truth. And Reinette Clochard? We shouldn’t forget the girls and women all over the world who are without education, who are demeaned, abused, or locked into confining roles, who still need our help.
Two of the newer apples we grow in the orchard are named Liberty and Freedom. Odd names for a fruit, you might think, but these are disease-resistant varieties. The suggestion is that the orchardist is free from the concern of scab, liberated from the fungal disease that makes growing apples in new England so challenging. These names reflect the significant changes in plant breeding in the last century. If only changing the human heart was as simple.
Today is our last day for apple picking. There are only a few Liberty and Freedom apples on the trees. We need more of both in this world. We need to remember the Eves, the Lallas, and the Reinette Clochards. We need to remember all those, both men and women, who sought knowledge and freedom and did not settle for less.