He’s a Natural

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Even without being told, Joley is a natural farmer. He’s older than I am – I’m not quite sure how much – but I have no trouble getting on with him. Hadley talks back from time to time, but Joley wouldn’t. Absolutely no farming experience and he’s a natural, did I say that?

He came in a couple of seasons ago, a Sunday U-Pick-Em day, when there were little kids all over the place. Like mosquitoes, they get in places you don’t want them, and when you slap at them to make them go away, they hover in front of your face to buy you a little bit more. We get lots of the Boston crowd because we’ve got a good reputation, and since he looked like another one of those button-down preppies I assumed he’d come out here to get a bushel or two to bring them home to some condo on the Harbor. (…)

Finally he walked into the orchards, and fascinated, I followed him. I’ve never told anyone this but it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I’ve been working on this orchard my entire life. I learned how to walk by hanging on the low branches of the apple trees. And I have never done the things that I saw him do that day. Joley just walked past the crowds, way past to the roped-off area we keep for the commercial apples, and stood in front of a tree.

I held back from yelling at him, instead I followed him, hiding behind trees. Joley stopped at a tree – Mac, I believe – and cupped his hands around a small pink blossom. It was a young tree, grafted maybe two seasons ago, and so it wasn’t bearing fruit yet. Or so I thought.

He held this blossom in his hands and he rubbed the petal with his fingers, he touched the soft throat of the inside and then he knotted his hands around it, like he was praying. He stood like this for a few minutes and I was too spooked to make a sound. Then he opened his palms. Inside was a smooth, round, red apple, plain as day. The guy’s a magician, I thought. Incredible. It hung from the still-thin branch, which bent under the unnatural weight. Joley picked it and turned around to face me as if he knew I was there all along. He held out the apple to me. I don’t think I ever officially offered him the job, or that I even knew I was looking for someone. But Joley stayed on the rest of that day and after that, moving into one of the extra bedrooms of the Big House. He became as good a worker as Hadley, who grew up on a farm in New Hampshere before his dad died and his mom sold out to a real estate developer. All you’d have to do is show Joley once, and he became an expert. He’s a better grafter than I am, now. His specialty, though, is pruning. He can cut branches off a young tree without a second thought, without feeling like he’s killing the thing, and just a season later it is the most beautiful umbrella of leaves you’ve ever seen.

-Songs of the Humpback Whale, by Jodi Picoult


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