Chapter 2 The Orchard

This entry is part of 16 in the series article 92

Chapter 2 The Orchard

CHAPTER 2

THE ORCHARD

Crouching behind the tree, I checked my weapon. The German Luger was newly acquired. The soldier from whom I had taken it was now a prisoner.

Suddenly I stiffened perfunctorily, listened, and dropped into the tall grass. Someone was approaching. I hitched a weary eye around the bowl of the tree and spied the German uniform through the trees. Collapsing into the cover of the thick grass, I mentally prepared for the oncoming danger. Squeezing the gun firmly in my hand and feeling the cold steel against my flesh heightened my confidence. Crickets chirped loudly, the smell of grass was pungent, and mosquitoes hummed in my ears. “There too noisy,” I thought, “they’ll give my position away. A grasshopper sprang, landing on my head. I remained frozen. The thud of heavy boots grew closer. I was five feet from the path. The grass was so tall, I was sure I could not be seen even if someone stood almost directly over me. I was covered with brush; branches of leafy growth tied to my body for additional camouflage.

He was close; very close, now. My heart stopped beating, blood ceased, adrenalin pumped, and I held my breath. My ears filtered out all external sound; locking on the thumping of those German boots. The shadowy figured passed before me like a pale ghost in a strange dream. I tensed. I counted his steps as they moved away. One, two, three. I rose stealthily and silently closed the gap between us. I was on him in a second; my gun grinding into his back and my arm encircling his neck like a cowboy’s lariat. He stumbled, dropping his riffle, The tall grass instantly swallowing it away. We both stood motionless for seconds; frozen in time, are breathing rasping loudly in the stillness of the orchard. “He’s an officer,” I thought. “That’s hard to believe. Well, all in a days work.” Spinning him about, I marched him down the path the way he had come. Pushing him away roughly, I commanded him to raise his hands. He obeyed.

As he walked several steps ahead, I held the Luger up again for inspection. The lose end of the caps trailed out from beneath the hammer. I tore off the excess and snapped open the chamber. I had plenty of caps left, I decided, the roll being full. It was fun playing war in the orchard. “You guys lost,” I boasted to my prisoner ahead. “Let’s divide up sides again and see who wins the next game.”

“Ok,” he agreed lowering his hands, “but this time we get the fort.”

The orchard behind my house was a perfect play ground. The two acres or so of land was never tended, thus the grass grew uncontrollably and was always nearly waist deep. Grasshoppers, crickets, mosquitoes, flies, bumblebees, rabbits, birds, ants, snakes, squirrels, worms, spiders, centipedes, gnats, chiggers, lady bugs, beatles, butterflies, lightning bugs, fleas, and just about anything else one could think of lived in the orchard.

The trees were friends. Tree houses were built in them. Forts constructed under them. Branches served as chinning bars. Hours were spent just climbing and swinging from one to the other. Of course, there were always the apples. We ate them green, red, or yellow. We hunted the largest and ripest ones. We even made use of the rotten ones fallen from the branches in war games. [Hand grenades].

Paths had been carved from our frequent trips to various parts of the orchard. Bikes were sometimes ridden down the trails where our camps were constructed. Sometimes cats and dogs of the neighborhood came to chase us through the maze of trails. Hideand -go-seek was always a favorite and sometimes hours were spent trying to catch rabbits which always somehow seemed to evade capture.

Garden snakes were plentiful and we caught them by the dozens, turning most lose, while making pets of others. One summer we had a contest to see who in the neighborhood could catch the most snakes. I captured over one hundred. Did we catch the same one’s? Possibly. The rule was, however, that a snake caught had to be released in the opposite side of the orchard where snake hunting was disallowed.

There were hills in the orchard, too, which provided hours of “King On The Hill.” Some of the hills were perched on the south side of the orchard over looking black top which had been laid. Christmas trees were sold on the paved lot during the winter and sometimes house trailers and boats during the summer but mostly the lot remained empty. The paved area provided a perfect location for riding bikes, roller skating, shooting marbles, bouncing balls, racing wind-up cars, and playing chicken. Often we made up games such as riding our bikes as fast as possible, jumping the pavement to plunge down the brushy hillside, only to be plucked from our seats by the thick under growth. Other times we just rode the pavement as though it were the Indy 500.

Somehow the thick clouds of mosquitoes, the biting chiggers, and the grouchy wasps never seemed to be a problem in the orchard. We learned to live together. Even the bier patch, where most of the rabbits retreated during hunts, we left alone. They just seemed to belong in the orchard as did we. We enjoyed the walnuts, raspberries, mulberries, and apples which all grew prolifically in and along the orchard boundaries.

Summer nights provided extra excitement in the orchard. Flashlights furnished illumination for hide-and-go-seek adventures. The eerie shadows of the trees heightened fear and the flashing of the lightning bugs created tiny atomic explosions in the darkness. the night time chirping of the crickets was nearly deafening. Clouds of hungry mosquitoes floated densely about the trees. Branches rustled ominously when stealthy squirrels jumped to nearby branches.

My favorite time in the orchard was the blossoming of the trees. The sudden burst of the red and white flowers as they popped from the branches looked like a strange snow storm had invaded the orchard at the wrong time of year. The pastel pinks, reds, and whites fluttered like delicate butterflies among the rustic branches. The aromatic fragrance of their scent was intoxicating; hovering among the trees like oriental incense. The silky peddles hung like earrings, their scent as feminine perfume, as though a wedding had been recently announced. The birds seemed happier to me during that time and the squirrels less apt to fight among themselves over their cash of nuts. It revealed newness and freshness and it prophesied of the coming crop of apples which every kid in the neighborhood always looked forward to with great anticipation.

The strangest experience I can recall in the orchard had to do with birds. Thousands of starlings took over the orchard one season as they apparently migrated. I am not suggesting there were just a few but literally thousands. Every tree was blackened by the birds as they perched on the branches. The chirping of the birds was nearly unbearable. It was impossible, during the few weeks the birds inhabited the orchard, to enter the area without being soaked with bird droppings. It was even more strange when they all took flight. The entire orchard was nearly bear. It looked as though winter had set in. Branches were baron of leaves, the trunks of trees and the ground all looked as though someone had white washed with a giant paint brush.

The winters were just as productive in the orchard. The hills became ski slopes, the trails toboggan runs, and the pavement skating rinks. “King On The Hill” was just as fun in the winter and there were no grass stains for moms to remove from clothing. Beginning from the tree line, tiny balls of snow were packed and rolled along the grown until the tall hills were reached. Then pushing them from the hill top, they rolled, enlarging as they did so, to the flat snow covered pavement below. Snow men, snow forts, or snow houses could then be constructed. Sleds, pieces of cardboard, enter tubes, and aluminum saucers all were part of the winter hardware in the orchard.

This chapter would easily be considered a nonessential by many, but I felt it important. The orchard still holds a place in my thoughts all these years later. It’s a get-a-way, it’s my hiding place. Often my thoughts return to that orchard and although it was plowed under long ago to make room for a grocery store, it lives vividly in my mind. I often walk those paths and see the tree forts again. I can hear the squirrels chattering and the birds arguing over tree ownership. I see a rabbit occasionally dark from under cover and pop into the heart of the thick sticker patch in the orchard’s center. I can taste the apples again. I ride my bike again and feel the hard pavement beneath my spinning wheels. Although I am completely blind now, I can see clearly every square inch of the orchard as though I were actually there.

“So?”
I offer this description of the orchard to simply show how pleasant how easy-going, how calm was my childhood. My life was an average middle income American boys life. I rode bikes, fished, roller skated, climbed trees, ate pop cycles, rode bikes, glued model cars, shot bee-bee guns, rode bikes, caught snakes, swam, collected ants, flew kites, climbed telephone poles, rode bikes, built forts, and hated girls just like any other boy of ten. The orchard was part of my Iowa heritage. I was fortunate to have such a place of refuge as a child living in town. Many today are unable to retreat to such a heritage in their adulthood. I thank God for such a place of peace now. This chapter is a suggestion. Is there an orchard in your life? A place where things grow, things live, where birds sing, flowers grow, and games are played? Is there a place of peace, a place of rest, a place of peaceful coexistence? Can you walk there? Are you free? If you are not born again, receive Christ as Lord and Saviour now by confessing Him as Lord of your life. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). If you are already born again, fellowship with God through prayer. Ask Him for such a place in your life. As you learn to worship God, discover the peace and joy it brings. Learn to rest in God in spite of current circumstances, past failures, present fears. Let Christ be your life. Feast on the fruit of eternal presence with God the Creator. Make neighbors of God’s people and share perpetual fellowship with them. Know God, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7).

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