There's an art to plucking apples

Updated: 06 November, 2020 07:46 IST | Rosalyn D'mello | Mumbai

Harvesting apples has become for me a metaphor for living, where my investment in the act is deeply emotional when the farm is my family's, and almost mechanical when it is someone else's.

I did everything in-house, and my ensemble was literally something-old-something-new-something-borrowed-something-blue. PICS/ Britta Foradori
I did everything in-house, and my ensemble was literally something-old-something-new-something-borrowed-something-blue. PICS/ Britta Foradori

picOn the Tuesday after our church wedding, we began the first round of the Pink Lady harvest on our plot of land. It was possibly around two degrees and I had to encase my body within six layers of clothes, not including my jacket; and two pairs of socks and gum boots, and of course, gloves. The ground was still wet from the rain the evening before. It's important now that you don't picture a conventional apple orchard, the kind you encounter in Himachal Pradesh or Kashmir. In South Tyrol, apple trees are farmed in a high-intensity manner. The plots of land are smaller, and the trees are planted adjacent to each other in parallel rows. Our plot of land has about 1,500 trees under hail nets, with two rows of Granny Smith, the rest Pink Lady, both of which are a joy to harvest for different reasons. Because Granny Smith are green, you generally harvest them in one go. But Pink Lady is widely considered the Champagne of apples. Literally, you cannot use the name interchangeably for another other kind of apple. It is patented. It commands a market value higher than most other kinds of apples. When you harvest Pink Lady, you are required by the co-operative to be highly attentive to the colour. You must be continually mindful, even as you journey into your thoughts as you fall into a work rhythm.

When Bastian's aunt, Maridl arrived on the morning of our first round of harvest, she told me this apple variety is also referred to as Paradise Apple. As we set about plucking, I thought, "how lucky for any apple to be harvested by her hands". Mostly, because I idolise her. I think she is one of few people I've met the world over who has a uniquely harmonious relationship with the human and more-than-human world. Because I'd spend the two weeks before intensely proofreading, I was grateful to be outdoors, in the company of the rising sun. Later that afternoon, Maridl brought an Apricot cake and lemon tea. It felt like a picnic. At the end of the day my body wasn't overly fatigued. I continued to have a spring in my step.

It occurred to me while harvesting that the difference between working on your own land and working on someone else's was the level of emotional investment you feel motivated to undertake. But beyond that, when I worked for another farmer, I often felt like I was expected to perform like a machine. Because I was being paid by the hour, I felt I was being constantly monitored, my hands had to be in perpetual motion. Except, I couldn't claim the privilege of performing purely mechanical labour. I had to use my cognitive faculties, too, in order to ascertain ripeness. Moreover, I was not allowed to dictate the pace of my body's labour. It was being determined by the Harvester machine; a kind of moving container with conveyor-belt limbs. I was part of a small battalion of labourers, and we had to move like a unit. On our own plot of land, because the holding is smaller, we were using a device problematically named Sherpa, which is battery operated and is used to hold the container into which we delicately place the apples. It is relatively soundless. Because we got to govern its speed, there was a greater symbiosis between all our bodies. You didn't feel like you were being rushed. As a result, I felt I had the luxury of experiencing the sensuality of my labour; how my fingers were swooshing between leaves, the sound each apple made as it was being plucked from the tree, the look of lightness on each branch after we had lightened its load, working, continually in partnership with it.

I wondered if this is what capitalist labour logic robs us off—the sensuality of being 'with' nature; the luxury of feeling trusted by your employer instead of being constantly monitored. It was a small thought upon which I am still building larger thoughts about what it means to feel connected to soil, or to understand winter not as a time of barrenness but a hibernation of trees, and similarly, a withdrawing into the self in an attempt to conserve resources, to allow for future rejuvenation, to strengthen roots.

Even though as a freelance writer I have relatively greater access to 'time', I'm still learning what it means to 'have' it, to dwell in it, to absorb the aura of infinity around which each minute is wrapped. In doing so, I've cast aside apprehensions about specificities of staking claim to places and things. I want, only, to nurture my belonging with the universe. This singular desire now forms the content of my prayers.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx

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First Published: 06 November, 2020 06:39 IST

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