Joy! Here she is… the Benvoulin apple. Lost, and then re-found. I left this apple in 1992, when I moved north, hoping that other people would care for her, but things being the way they are in this world, she was almost lost. I got some grafts, from a hunch, from an unidentifiable old tree, with twenty years of wobbly memory to guide me. (Three months later, the tree was cut down… call it fate.)
She is still the queen. She tastes like a fine glass of riesling, and look at how white her flesh is! I promise, I won’t lose her again. Here’s the story of her discovery, from my book Tom Thomson’s Shack (2000).
I worked for Hugh one year. Late one October day after picking apples I found an apple tree in a ditch beside Benvoulin road in Kelowna. The tree was fifteen years old, rising out of a tangle of overgrown wild roses. In the brambles was a carpet of yellow windfalls. Wasps were feeding on them, clustering, golden, around puncture holes in the skins. The apples were marvelously distorted, the flesh of each one cut by five deep lines, paralleling the five sections of the ovary. Never had I tasted an apple like that! With cars swishing past me, I clambered excitedly through a break in the brambles, over a rusted barbed wire fence, and into the field behind. There were two more old trees. One was broken down, overgrown with wild plums and the long, trailing vines of wild clematis. Its apples were shrivelled red husks. The other tree stood alone, surrounded by a thorny ring of her seedling daughters. As I walked towards her, a horse looked up at the far end of the field, then started walking, then running, towards me. We reached the tree together. There were still a few apples in this tree. I picked up an old ten-foot-long prop that was lying in the grass Ñ once used to support branches heavy with fruit Ñ and knocked an apple off. Before I could get to it, the horse had bent down and was eating it. Horses are big! I kept my distance! I knocked another apple off, and another, and another. In the end, of all the apples on the tree the horse ate half and I kept the other half in my pocket. It seemed a fair trade. The horse pushed roughly against my pockets as I left the field. As I climbed over the fence, and then up onto the shoulder of the road, he whinnied softly. I walked back down the road to my car. The cars that swished by me sounded like huge animals, roaring.
That night, as the room licked golden and orange in the firelight, we sat on chairs in front of Hugh’s fire. Hugh lit his pipe with a long sliver of wood he pulled from the flames, lifting it slowly to his mouth and drawing it in. His father slit each apple open from blossom end to stem end with a planter’s knife. As we bit into the apples, six different flavours burst on the tongue, slowly, one after the other, in a slow wash bursting farther and farther back in the mouth and cresting up over the palette like spray from a wave, until the whole mouth was as tender as a blossom.
“This is a great apple!” said Hugh, after biting into one of the apples the wasps had been eating in the ditch. “Maybe it’s related to Maiden’s Blush. There used to be apples in that whole area down there in the Benvoulin. And pears. It was the best pear land on earth. Once! Pear land makes good shopping mall land, too. They brought a lot of old apples here and tried them. Everyone almost went bust at first.”
The next morning snow lay two inches deep over the ground. I drove down to Benvoulin Road, cut some grafting wood off the tree and buried it behind my cabin. The next spring the Highways Department cleared the ditch. The tree was gone. I got there just in time! I’ve kept that wet walk beside the dark road in the rain, the cars pouring past me like salmon fighting up a spawning river, driven, and the feel of the apples in my pocket: the golden apples of the Hesperides, the apple that Paris gave to Helen when the three goddesses lined up and said, “Who is the most beautiful!” and he chose.