Taking Care of an Apple Harvest as a Community, Mess and All

What a gifts and offerings circle made possible

Ben Wolfe

Talk about a magical way of cultivating community. Host a circle in which people are invited to put forward the gifts they wish to give to others, as well as the needs, wants and likes they desire to make known. Then see what happens.

Last Saturday evening I joined a gathering that had emerged — I want to use the word magically again — out of just such a circle.

Because someone offered a dehydrator that had been sitting mostly unused. And because someone else said her apple trees were dropping an abundance of fruit that she could never take care of herself. And because another participant said he planned to open his home for a gathering any way — we all went to the home of Luke Lee Burton.

About a dozen people who, in many cases, had been strangers until not too long ago, found ourselves taking care of an apple harvest together. Nobody was an expert canner or juicer in the room, so there was lots of co-learning — one person sharing what he knew about how to work his dehydrator, while another offering her take on the ins and outs of apple-saucing.

“The applesauce will taste better because of the music.”

By six in the evening, the fragrance of applesauce bubbling on the stove hung thick in the room. Every so often, the whir of a juicer muffled the scattering of conversations taking place in different parts of the house — at the table, where slicing and dicing were occurring, in the living room where those taking a break lounged on sofas. At one point, Luke shared his gift in music making and the cascade of live piano refrains drew murmurs of appreciation. The applesauce will taste better because of the music, one person said.

Later, a fire in a fire-pit brought by someone else because Luke doesn’t have one inspired the singing of old campfire songs and taking moments to bend our heads back and stare straight up at the stars.

One of the big a-has for me in all of this was just how both beautiful and messy being part of a community can be. I already knew this. But I really felt it again in that experience. For me, the messiness came out partly in how I personally felt less present for most of the evening than I wanted to be because of a pressing family concern. I know I missed out on a deeper experience of the gathering as a result, but I also know it was mostly okay. This community was big enough to hold my distracted self.

Host and entertainer, Luke Lee Burton. (Photo: Ben Wolfe)

Host and entertainer, Luke Lee Burton. (Photo: Ben Wolfe)

I also worried about leaving Luke’s house with blobs of applesauce dotting his cupboards.

And at one point the smoke from the fire made my eyes burn so much I had tears streaming down my face.

But as I suspect we also all know, we miss out if we expect and only embrace the nice feelings and spotlessness in the experience of community.

Aukje Byker mused at one point in the evening, she feels much more comfortable having people over if her visit to their home reveals they’re okay with mess.

I think her reflection is a fitting way of being for any of us yearning to belong to always consider.

If I’m okay with my mess — inside and out — that gives you permission to be okay with your mess. Not to say we never try to deal with our mess. I know both I and others benefit more from my presence than my distraction. And I’m sure Luke and his family would enjoy fewer applesauce smears next time, if there is a next time.

But even if all that stuff is taken care of, there will always be some other mess in community.

So maybe it’s about finding new ways to deal with mess — ask what gift it brings, perhaps or see if there’s anything remotely funny about it (as Luke did about the applesauce blobs at one point).

Then we can join another gifts and offerings circle, wait to see what it magically unfolds and embrace the experience that follows — burning eyes, imperfect selves and all.

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4 comments

  1. Pauline Harder

    As many people know, we have a fantastic apple tree out front our house. Over the years we have met dozens, if not hundreds of people who have stopped either to admire it or to pick its apples. Some times people knock on the door, other times we surprise people up in the tree and get a good laugh at the expression on their face when they are “caught”. When we tell people where we live, I always add “the one with the apple tree”, and usually people know what I mean. This year some local gleaners even came by and helped us with the overwhelming crop. A man stopped by who used to live in this neighbourhood 20 years ago and said he came by to see how the tree was doing. Another person who goes to church nearby knocked on the door to ask if the kids were holding their apple stand this year – he has been buying from them for years, and was disappointed not to see them!

    Turns out my kids are too old for apple stands so we asked the girls down the street, if they wanted to take over the duty. Once it all wrapped up, their fantastic mom insisted they give half their profits to us. But I can’t tell you how weird it feels taking money for something that magically appears in our yard every year, without us doing anything to deserve it. So we, in turn, decided that in the spirit of the tree’s generosity, we needed to keep paying the gift forward and are giving the money to one of the local groups raising funds to sponsor Syrian refugees. This tree just never stops amazing me. It asks nothing from us but the odd trim, and gives us so much happiness. A climbing gym for the kids and their friends, an unparalleled display of beauty in the spring, and incredible, free, delicious apples in the fall. But above all else it gives us community. And now, it is helping to make that community a bit bigger. It truly is a giving tree. At a time when many people feel afraid that doing for others means there will be less for us, this tree gives us a moment just to enjoy a bit of undeserved abundance. Hatred and anger can spread so quickly, but so can kindness and generosity, and it’s amazing to see it grow and multiply as we pass it from one to another.

    • Michelle Strutzenberger

      Thank you Pauline! What a beautiful story. Your closing remarks are so true and profound: “At a time when many people feel afraid that doing for others means there will be less for us, this tree gives us a moment just to enjoy a bit of undeserved abundance. Hatred and anger can spread so quickly, but so can kindness and generosity, and it’s amazing to see it grow and multiply as we pass it from one to another.”

  2. Luke Lee Burton

    My goodness Michelle, what a beautiful, heart-opening story/reflection you have given here. I am struck again by how the blogs about events are themselves generative gifts. I feel as though the energy of the gift/creativity relay is building.

    • Michelle Strutzenberger

      Thank you so much Luke. Love this: “I feel as though the energy of the gift/creativity relay is building.” I’m sensing that too!