Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Carving Out a Way of Life

Watercolor Painting by Joyce Dutka

David Fried

I found a path from my new place that led to a great humming. Apple trees in full blossom in rows smothered in white and pink heavenly clouds of great-smelling flowers filled the sky and the air around me. Heaven on earth. I was living in a little village in Quebec. 1978.

I walked through the orchard and lay under the trees and climbed the trees and hugged the trees. The bees and the other myriads of pollinators were all there, too. This was the place to be!

I had come up here to be a woodcarver. St Jean Port Joli is a village of woodcarvers an hour north of Quebec City where the local artisans take pieces of wood and make everything from figures to every part possible to replace in a car, in wood. I went to the school and learned how to sharpen my chisels and how to drink Labatt Blue beer after classes in the little simple restaurant bar.

I supported myself by baking apple cake and honey cake and carré aux dattes (oat date squares) and bringing it to the cafe. Each of the town’s woodcarvers built a table that they brought to the café, so there would be tables in the cafe when it opened. Each had the personality of its maker. I was the baker from the states.

Two or three miles out of town was a house where some of the students lived. We made beer in large clean plastic garbage pails and put things like sticks of black licorice in it to give it flavor.

The singer-poet Leonard Cohen was on the record player night and day. Their own hero and troubadour.

My Quebecois French got better and better. My vocabulary grew quickly, but I must have sounded like a third grader. I never learned grammar but spoke the French of the street, like the young students that the government supported while they learned a trade and learned about life together.

I wander out from my house to explore the paths here. This one takes me to a little farm. There is a barn and a house on one side of the small village road with about six to eight jersey cows eating grass on the hillside. Across the street is another house hidden by maple trees with a strong humming sound coming from that direction. I keep going towards this sound.

I enter a rectangle border of maple trees, and here are rows of neatly laid out apple trees. Full size, impressive and loaded with beckoning flowers. I am a honeybee on my wedding day. I am all over the flowers and branches, dancing and singing and in love. This is the place for me. I lie on my back and look up through the soft green light of the leaves while they gently rock in the breeze. A few flowers flutter down into my hair and onto my face. The sky is a lazy blue. The grass is sweet and welcoming.

Another day I meet the farmers. One brother lives with his wife across the road and has the house and barn and the cows. His brother lives on the orchard side, which they share along with the maple trees which they tap together. This brother lives alone. except for the bees.

He brings me into his small house. He points to a wall between his entranceway and his kitchen. This wall is actually filled with bees. He built this special wall for them so he can see them on one side to make sure they are always ok. He speaks of them lovingly: “les abeez,” he says over and over.

“Les abeez.” As if talking about the love of his life, he shows me how he cares for them so they have an easier winter. After all, they are the ones who help all the apples to get pollinated and help him to have an income from the apples and the honey. I ask him if I can take some fallen branches to carve into something and he says I can. There are swirls of dark red and creamy white in the apple wood.

These brothers have found a way to live in harmony with their world away from the hustle and bustle, but still there are periods where life is humming. The cows get milked and the apples picked and stored. The sap runs in the spring, and they make the syrup from “Les eaux de l’érable” (the waters of the maple) and “les abeez” come in before the cold of winter.

I felt a great kindness there. They had it for the land and the land gave back to them so generously. I carry this taste of simple living with me, and it is part of everything I do.

David Fried is a poet and garden writer who also grows trees at Elmore Roots Nursery in northern Vermont.

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