Henrí the Peach

Monday, June 27, 2016

In a small corner of a treed city, paradise bloomed. It was one of those carefully tended gardens where honeybees nourished themselves on a never ending supply of pollen from a various supply of delicious sources, and where migrating Monarch butterflies, dragonflies and hummingbird moths stopped off to dance and play among an assortment of brightly colored blooms.

A tree grew near the center of this glorious landscape. It stood near the top of a gently sloping ridge. Its branches spread over and provided shade for the myriad of wildflowers and insects below. But this was no ordinary tree. This was the territory of Henrí the Peach. And there was no finer peach tree in the land than Henrí (pronounced "Ahn-Rhee").

Henrí fancied himself to be French in origin, but he had been planted at that spot for so long that nobody really knew. He had heard someone remark at one point during his life that all peach trees hailed from France, which really wasn’t the truth, but Henrí the Peach fancied himself as the finest French peach in the land.

He would greet visitors to his garden with a healthy “Bonjour.” Which was inevitably followed by “Je m'appelle, Henrí” (Hello, my name is Henry). “Comment vous appelezvous?” (What is your name?). His accent, if you could hear a peach tree speak the French language that is, bordered on the comical Pepé Le Pew, a fictional character from the Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons.

All of this, of course, was rather ridiculous. But Henrí had his share of fans and visitors in the paradise that had been created just for him. You see, Henrí was more than just a fine specimen of a peach tree. Henrí produced the finest peaches anyone had ever seen or tasted. Nobody was quite sure what variety they were, but he shared his bounty willingly every summer from the dozens who came to sample his delicious yellow freestone juice and texture.

It’s safe to say that Henrí wasn’t just a peach tree. Henrí was the finest and most extraordinary peach that anyone had ever tasted. His fruit went into a myriad of creations, including pies, cobblers, jams, jellies, salsas, spreads and any concoction that fans could dream of. Fruit tree growers from far and wide came every year to clip branches and twigs from his wide canopy, which would be propagated with other peach trees that grew nearby in the countryside. Everybody loved Henrí. And Henrí loved them.

Henrí the Peach was as happy as a peach tree could possibly be. But it’s not just because Henrí was loved by so many. Yes, that was important. But more important than anything else was, Henrí was in love himself. His love, which he saw nearly every day, tended the garden in which Henrí grew. And, although this garden was wide and diverse, she devoted most of her attention to Henrí.

He received more attention and care than any peach tree ever should. She made sure that Henrí always had a plentiful supply of water. The food and nutrients that Henrí consumed on a daily basis had been lovingly worked into the soil around his root system. Henrí was never one to want anything. Yearly applications of sprays and herbicides kept bugs and disease at bay. The minerals Henrí received created a strong and vibrant root system. The water that Henrí received was the finest in the land, originating from crystal clear streams that started in the high country and weaved their way to his garden.

It’s safe to say that Henrí led the charmed life – or as charmed as any peach tree could possibly imagine. His love not only made sure he was well fed and protected; she would at times sit underneath his impressive canopy and lean against the strong and powerful trunk that she had helped to create and nourish. It is here where she would whisper her love to Henrí and even sing his favorite songs.

Henrí would fancy that he could bend his powerful branches around her and protect her from any harm or disease that might strike in her direction. His heart, if peach trees had such a thing, sung with joy in her presence. “Je veux être avec toi,” he would whisper to his love (I want to be with you). Henrí was as happy as any peach tree could possibly be.

This is one reason why Henrí would reward his love with the finest peaches in the land. The mother of his love would sometimes stop off to visit during the August harvest season. Mrs. Willoughby came for a purpose. Mrs. Willoughby’s pies were the stuff of legend. Nobody baked a pie like Mrs. Willoughby. Nobody produced fresh peaches like Henrí the Peach. Combined, the two produced a magical pie creation that would bring joyous tears to the eyes of anyone who tasted near perfection.

It was during this point in his life where an excited Mrs. Willoughby visited the home of her daughter with the most exciting of news. Although Henrí couldn’t overhear exactly what the two were sharing with one another, he knew it involved him in some way. Henrí noticed that Mrs. Willoughby clutched something very bright and shiny in one hand as she moved in his direction and proceeded to pin the shiny object on one his outstretched branches.

As Henrí would come to learn from the excitement shared between his love and Mrs. Willoughby, pies she created featuring his peaches had captured first prize at the local county fair. The reward for Henrí was a shiny first place ribbon and even more love and adoration from those who prized his peaches. It was proof positive that Henrí produced only the finest peaches in the land. He could not have been happier.

Life continued much like this for Henrí for as long as he could remember. “La vie ne pouvait pas être plus parfait,” he would whisper to his love during those warm summer nights (Life could not be more perfect). But as Henrí the Peach was soon to learn, life does change, and sometimes it doesn’t always change for the better.

The first inkling that something was wrong in the life of his love came during the fall, when Henrí was beginning to shed his impressive summer foliage and preparing for his long winter sleep. He noticed his love standing on the porch of his garden. What seemed like raindrops fell from her eyes. Henrí beckoned his love to move closer. He wished to comfort her and wipe away her tears. But despite his repeated calls, his love stood on the porch of the garden and cried like he had never seen her cry before.

Henrí did his best to stay awake and stave off the long winter slumber that so desperately called to him. But, eventually, time and the gray skies of the winter season caught up to him. Henrí fell into a deep winter slumber that all peach trees need to rest and recharge themselves for the upcoming spring and summer seasons. All the while, he noticed his love standing at the porch and staring at him with a sadness he did not understand, nor could he possibly comprehend.

It wasn’t until Henrí awoke next spring did he finally begin to understand the events that had taken place the previous year. The migrating warblers that perched on his branches informed him that the mother of his love and the creator of those wonderful, lip-smacking pies had passed. It was cancer they told him and Mrs. Willoughby slowly slipped from this world while his love, powerless to stop what was happening, watched and grieved.

His first reaction of course was to reach out to his love to provide the comfort and understanding that only Henrí the Peach could provide. They had been through so much together; he and his love, and he vowed that they would make it through this. But fate had other plans.

It started slowly at first, but as time passed, Henrí noticed that his love spent fewer and fewer hours in the garden they shared together. The wildflowers that once grew in abundance weren’t as numerous as they had been in previous years. Honeybees and other insects would soon migrate to other nearby areas. The water that had once been applied in abundance no longer flowed. The minerals that sustained Henrí through the growth spurt every spring season did not get applied. Worse yet, Henrí the Peach had developed a nasty case of peach leaf curl. Though it would not affect fruit production, it wasn’t long before Henrí went from beautiful specimen to downright ugly.

Henrí, of course, noticed the change immediately. During the windy season that normally came every March, he allowed his branches to whip around too and fro, in hopes of getting the attention of his love. But Henrí would soon come to realize that he didn’t see his love nearly as much as he once did. She didn’t visit like she once did. She no longer applied her love in a tender way. The long conversations he enjoyed became fewer and fewer. Worse yet, his lover no longer sang to him in that silky, beautiful way she once had.

Henrí could only stand helplessly and watch from a distance as his love would appear and then disappear just as quickly. He would immediately call out to her “Je ne comprends pas” (I don’t understand). But his love did not hear him. For peach trees cannot speak. Not even the famous Henrí the Peach.

Henrí could not begin to comprehend at first why his love no longer seemed to care for him. If peach trees had such things as feelings, Henrí would have been deeply hurt. His love, for all intensive purposes, had slowly pulled away and abandoned him. Henrí had been left behind in a garden now overgrown with weeds and vines that sapped the moisture he so desperately needed.

As spring slowly progressed into summer and the weather began to warm, Henrí awoke one day parched with thirst. This was a new feeling for him. Henrí had never known want before. His love had always attended to his every need and desire. But as his thirst grew from day to day, he noticed that the irrigation system that once provided him with abundant, clean, cool and crisp mountain spring water had broken down over the winter months.

The ground around his impressive canopy had gone from lush to brown, cracked and dry clay soil. Henrí had produced an impressive crop of peaches that spring, but his dry branches now began to bend and crack under the weight of a terrific crop. Henrí knew he would be forced to sacrifice some of his fruit if he didn’t get water soon, but he noticed his love didn’t seem to care about the fruit falling in worrisome numbers to the ground below. Henrí simply could not understand. Worse yet, he grew frustrated.

Like most lovers, Henrí wasn’t ready to give up and move on, even though it seemed as if his love had done exactly that. He would fight for the attention of his love, even though she now seemed to treat him as nothing more than an afterthought. Henrí did everything a peach tree could possibly do to gain the attention of his lover. He would have stood on his head if a peach tree could do so. But not even Henrí the Peach could pull something like that off.

Still, Henrí desperately wanted to demonstrate his love and affection in the hope that his love would notice and care for him once again. During a rare trip out to the garden, she walked closely enough where he thought he could just reach out and caress her with a soft branch and leaf. It would be his way of saying how much he still cared for her, how much he missed her love and attention and how much he wanted her back.

But Henrí didn’t realize that the lack of care and water that season had turned his once soft and supple branches into hardened and sharpened sticks. Instead of a caress, he managed to poke her so hard with a sharpened branch that it tore the skin on her arm, leaving an angry red welt. As she pulled her arm away in anger, her reaction wasn’t what Henrí had hoped for, or the hurtful words that followed.

“You stupid, ugly thing,” she exclaimed in a nasty and angry tone that Henrí had never heard before. “I’m so sick of you. I just can’t stand you anymore.”

The words tore at his heart, had Henrí had such a thing. Tears began to fall. Peach trees aren’t supposed to have hearts, memories or even cry for that matter. They certainly aren’t supposed to feel emotions like love either, but Henrí the Peach was one of those special trees that did feel emotion and felt terrible about the pain he had caused. “Je suis désolé mon amour,” he exclaimed (“I am sorry my love). But she could not hear him because peach trees cannot speak. He only felt a great sorrow for the pain he had caused his one love in life.

Time has a way of passing. His love continued to spend less and less time in the garden. What had once brought her happiness now seemed to only bring tears and pain. The visitors who once fawned over him visited less and less. Henrí dealt with the loneliness and pain of abandonment the best way he could, by delivering a crop of only the best peaches.

He didn’t notice, of course, but due to a lack of water and care, his peaches were much smaller than in previous years. They were also pockmarked, bruised and beaten from numerous diseases and pests that Henrí did his best to fight off. But when harvest time came, no one came to visit. The peaches that were once desired by all, no longer commanded an audience. Slowly, one by one, his peaches rotted on the branch and fell to the cracked, brown clay soil below. There would be no more pies. There would be no more cobbler. While Henrí could not understand why the love of his life had changed in the way she did, he vowed to do even better.

But, what Henrí failed to realize is that his love had moved on in life. Life changes people, which can be both good and bad. Henrí was doing his best to recapture the love, attention and adoration he had once received. What Henrí failed to realize is that he could only be Henrí the Peach. This wasn’t a bad thing. Henrí had spent the better part of his life impressing those around him. But what he could not control is change.

Change was coming. It was coming in ways that he would not understand.

As Henrí fell into his deep winter slumber that fall, he vowed to do better. He would do his best to conserve the rainfall that dropped over the cold winter months. He could do without the best water. He would make do with what he received. He vowed to fight off the pests and disease that had made such a mess of the previous year’s crop. During the tears of sorrow and lost love that came more often now, he vowed to do better and win back his love.

When Henrí awoke that next spring he immediately noticed a difference. The flowers, butterflies and honeybees had returned. His watering system that had been hopelessly broken the year before had been repaired. Most of all he noticed his love dancing about the garden again, as happily as she had ever been.

Henrí bloomed with a love that he hadn’t felt for many years. His love had returned. His love once again danced around him. The visitors who had stopped coming a year ago had returned. Henrí felt life returning to normal. Everything was right in his world again.

But what he failed to notice is that he was sharing his space and water with another. And he slowly came to realize that another peach tree sat patiently in a container nearby. Worse yet, Henrí began to understand that the love who once whispered and sang her love for him had found the love of another.

“Isn’t this the most beautiful white peach you’ve ever seen,” she would croon to anyone who would listen. “White donut peaches are the best peaches under the sun,” she would brag. It was almost as if Henrí was invisible. Though he still dominated the garden he was in, he was no longer the center of attention. If anything, Henrí was invisible. In the eyes of his love, he no longer mattered.

His love didn’t speak of him much nor pay him much attention as she had in years past. But the few words he did hear were not encouraging. Henrí was “in the way” as he would come to understand. Despite his magnificent production of years past, despite his love for her, Henrí had been replaced. As he began to comprehend that his love had eyes for another, the jealousy and anger began to grow.

But the worst injustice, at least in the eyes of Henrí the Peach, was still to come.

The group of men with power tools arrived in the garden one day without warning. They weren’t there for the peaches. It was June you understand. The peaches that Henrí produced wouldn’t ripen until August at the latest. But his rival, the white donut peach, was already producing ripened fruit that the workers and many others had come to sample.

The first cut is the deepest. Henrí felt the pain but couldn’t understand what was happening to him. The loud noise he heard blocked out just about everything. But something was happening to Henrí the Peach that he couldn’t quite understand at first. It was only at the last minute did he understand that the loud noise he heard was that of a chainsaw. The pain he felt was the sharpened blade of a power saw cutting him down at the stump.

At first he could not believe the injustice he had been subjected too. This was his yard! This was his garden! How could the love of his life allow this to happen? It was then that Henrí noticed his love a short distance away, clapping with joy as he was slowly cut down. It was then when all pretenses of the French language and origin dropped and Henrí began to cry out in plain English: “But wait,” he silently cried! “I am Henrí the Peach,” he exclaimed. “My peaches are award winners,” as he thrust forward the branch that Mrs. Willoughby had pinned a first place county fair medal on years earlier.

But what Henrí failed to realize is that time and nature had done its damage to the first place prize ribbon that had hung on his proud branches for so long. The wind and rain of multiple winters had long ago washed away any wording or glitter that his award ribbon once contained. All that remained were tattered remains of a dull and dirty scrap of paper that nobody recognized as nothing more than trash.

The essence of Henrí barely had time to rush into the trunk and root systems of a once proud tree that now fell to the ground with a loud groan and crash. He watched as the men with power tools proceeded to slice up and stack every last branch. Henrí knew his fate. His once proud branches were stacked neatly near a fire pit in the corner of the garden. He would be next summer’s fire pit fuel. The branches that once produced the finest peaches in all the land, would soon roast over an open flame.

As Henrí the Peach sunk lower into the root system to ponder his fate, the men with power tools finished the professional job they had started with a stump grinder. As they worked to eradicate every last trace of Henrí, he realized that the wood chips from his stump would serve as the compost that the fancy white donut peach would need to not only survive, but thrive in its new setting.

The men with power tools left later that day. Dust and wood chips scattered the ground where the great Henrí the Peach once grew. The fancy white donut peach stood in the same hole that once contained the remains of his mighty stump – the same stump that his love at one time leaned against as she sang her garden songs of love.

Henrí survived the initial onslaught, but now came to fear the woman he once loved with all his heart, had peach trees had such a thing. If he dared allowed his root system to send up even a single leaf’s worth of growth, it was hacked into pieces and sprayed with a substance that stung his remaining roots. Henrí knew to stay below the surface and could only watch his love sing the praises of another. The fight to stay alive for his love grew into a daily struggle, as the fancy white donut peach grew to a size where it began to consume the water and nutrients that had once been reserved for Henrí the Peach.

THE END?

Henrí isn’t sure when he died or if he did die, but one day he realized that he was no longer in the garden that once contained his very essence. As he slowly became aware of the conditions around him, Henrí didn’t recognize the setting he was in nor the garden. Worse yet, by the time Henrí did become aware of the environment around him, he would fall into a deep slumber, only to reawaken in another strange place.

At first, he could not understand where he was. It felt like a peach tree but it wasn’t his tree. He shared it with another or sometimes, several others. They were all peach varieties just like Henrí, but also unlike him. After all, time may have passed, but the peaches that Henrí bore were still unique.

Henrí can’t remember how long it took before he finally understood, but it must have been a period of several years. His very essence was contained in a series of peach trees that were planted on different farms or in different gardens. He survived in the cuttings that growers had taken from his magnificent tree years earlier, which had been grafted to other peach trees. Henrí was glad to discover that he had not been forgotten. His fruit was just as prized now as it ever had been.

As for the love that sang to him and nurtured his soul through the years, his memory had faded to the point where he could no longer remember her name and not even her face. Henrí knew that she never visited him again, but did remember her love with a fondness that would never die. Because nobody ever forgets a true love or the joy and pain that a true love can bring.

Henrí could only realize that, at one time, he was loved and he was cherished. He remembered the good times with great relish, and tried not to dwell on the pain and tears of the past. His only wish, had peach trees had such a thing, was to feel her caress on his branches once again and hear her songs of love.

A love like this comes but once in a lifetime. While the tears and pain of loss did not come as often as they once did, from time to time the old sorrow came to visit. For we all feel the sorrow and tears for a deep love that comes to an abrupt end. That is especially true for Henrí the Peach.

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