Sunday, June 13, 2021

Nicole Walker, Apple Tree with Scabies


This is an essay in a series of b-sides to The Texas Review All-Essay Issue. (More info at the end of this post.)

Apple Tree with Scabies 

Nicole Walker


My husband, Erik, teases me that I don’t like change. He stands at my open closet doors, pulls out a skirt. “You keep everything. I bought this for you for your birthday when we were dating. Like twenty years ago.”
     “It still fits! And, it’s from Anthropologie. That store is expensive. It would be a waste to throw it away.”
     “You never wear it.” I take the skirt from him, pull off the pants I’m wearing, leave them on the floor so I can slide the skirt. It has a zipper. I zip it all the way up. Almost. 
     While we’re upstairs, he points out the stained carpet, the closet doors coming off their tracks. 
     “These knobs are from the seventies,” he says.
     “You’re from the seventies,” I tell him. 
     “We should move.” 
     “I know. We totally should move.” 
I say that as I look out my living window at the Honey Crisp apple tree Erik gave me for Mother’s Day two years ago. The branches are still red which suggests life, right? Dead trees have gray bark. I squint at the tree—is that a green fleck of a shoot?
     I head to the backyard to investigate. The tree is wrapped in green netting to keep the deer from chewing the tender shoots. Green twist-ties hold the netting to the branches. This plastic is the green I saw from the window.
     “Come on, little tree. You can do it.” I slide my hands through the netting to massage the stems, hoping to feel nodules pucker through the bark. I sit down on the hard dirt and talk to the leaves instead. “Do you want to be a tree? I could let you live this time.” Last year, I saw the leaves growing wantonly from the ground. I chopped them down to try to get the graft to grow. At least I can rely on the constancy of rootstock. 

It seems particularly unfair that the tree has died during what has become the tree uprising of Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet elevation. Unlike the climate most people associate with Arizona, Flagstaff barely reaches ninety degrees in summer. Temperatures register below freezing in the winter. But last spring, temperatures did not fluctuate as widely as usual. By fall, apples were rolling down the streets. A nonprofit for Flagstaff food security organized volunteers to collect apples before they rotted into park lawns and golf courses. To distract Erik from the idea of moving houses, I pointed out the apples that would go to waste if we didn’t take advantage of the neighborhood trees to make apple cider. Max, our nine year old and Zoe, our thirteen year old, helped us crush the apples. We tasted the juice. It was pretty good. Six weeks later, the cider? Well, the yeast, like the Honey Crisp in the backyard, did not produce as we’d hoped. 

Erik comes outside to look at the tree with me. From the ground, I look up at him. 
     “Did you see the UN Report about the species humans are currently killing?” 
     “I did. A million.” He puts his hand on the top of my head. I might have thought it was condescending if there were anything else he could have done to make me feel better. 
     “Max has to write a paper on the Emperor Penguin colony that disappeared,” I feel sorry for Max and Zoe. Why do they have to watch this great extinction? Erik keeps looking at the tree. 
     “I wonder what happened?”
     “To the penguins?”
     “No. To the tree,” he says.
     “I don’t know. Maybe we didn’t dig deep enough or we watered it too little. Or too much.” 
     “Come on. Sit on the patio with me. Have a beer.” He reaches his hand toward me. I give him mine to pull me up. 
     “I guess we won’t be having any cider any time soon. We better get good at making it. I’m not going into the apocalypse without any alcohol.”
     “I know. I’m working on it. Maybe we should get a kit to get started. Maybe there were too many variables in the juice.”
About my own tree, I’m still feeling sad but at least for now, I’ve convinced Erik to stop talking about moving to a new house. He won’t watch Our Planet, a show about the effects of global warming and habitat loss on animals, on Netflix with me and Max. It makes him too sad. 
     I said to Max, out of earshot of Erik, “Sometimes, it’s good to be sad.” 
     “Sometimes,” Max says back. He doesn’t like it when I cry even when we’re just watching TV.
The good news is, it will be Mother’s Day soon. I’ve asked Erik for another apple tree. Maybe not a Honey Crisp but instead something that can stand the fluctuations of weather and water. Possibly a different varietal can learn to like change. I guess it had better. 


Nicole Walker is the author of Processed Meats: Essays on Food, Flesh and Navigating Disaster (2021), Sustainability: A Love Story (2018), and the collaborative collection The After-Normal: Brief, Alphabetical Essays on a Changing Planet (2019). She has previously published the books Where the Tiny Things Are (2017), Egg (2017), Micrograms (2016), Quench Your Thirst with Salt (2013), and This Noisy Egg (2010). She edited for Bloomsbury the essay collections Science of Story (2019) with Sean Prentiss and Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction (2013) with Margot Singer. She is the co-president of NonfictioNOW and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts award and a noted author in Best American Essays. Her work has been most recently published in the New York Times, Longreads, and Ploughshares, among other places. She teaches at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.


I have always loved the B-side of records or cassettes, being let in on the secret/unreleased or more unexpected strangeness that awaited from artists. The B-side, in its essence, offers a singular delight in a promise that you, the audience, will not (or may not) be able to recreate the experience the B-side offers anywhere else. It says welcome, stay here a while, and put it on repeat. 

In the spirit of the B-side, The Texas Review asked contributors of the All-Essay Issue (Vol. 40, #3/#4, 2020) to contribute essays to a B-side compilation. We want to offer, here, a moment of singular delight as accompanied unexpected strangeness or echo location or dancing and braided conversation in conjunction to the contributors’ essays featured in the All-Essay Issue. 

Please enjoy the following B-sides by: Mary-Kim Arnold; Piper J. Daniels and Nicole McCarthy; Lily Hoang; Vincent James; Michael Martone; Ander Monson; Katrina Otuonye; Danielle Pafunda; Monica Prince; Addie Tsai; Julie Marie Wade; and Nicole Walker. 

Thank you (and genuflection) to all of the contributors featured in our pages: Danielle Pafunda; Sejal Shah; Addie Tsai; Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint; Temim Fruchter; Raquel Gutiérrez, Muriel Leung; Monica Prince; Ander Monson; Janice Lee; Piper J. Daniels; Camellia-Berry Grass; Wendy C. Ortiz; SJ Sindu; Dinty W. Moore; Michael Martone; Lily Hoang; Nicole Walker; Mary-Kim Arnold; Katrina Otuonye; Vincent James; Julie Marie Wade; Caroline Crew; Diana Khoi Nguyen.

Thank you to Ander Monson for giving us the space of Essay Daily, and as ever thank you to Nick Lantz, Editor of The Texas Review. 

Welcome, stay here a while, and put it on repeat. 

Katie Jean Shinkle, Guest Editor, The Texas Review

If you would like to order a copy of the All-Essay Issue:

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