Easter Apples and Other Surprises

The happy shrieks and yelling of small children woke us from our sleep. Not that we had slept well. The red sandstone of Sedona, Arizona did not make for a comfortable bed. My college roommate and I both stuck our heads out of the tent. We could see children zooming around the campground finding the dyed Easter eggs we had hidden around the family campsites the evening before. We could see and hear the parents quizzing each other as to who had hid the eggs. Each parent denied any knowledge of the deed. Gene and I grinned at each other. It was the perfect Easter surprise. And a story the parents would tell each other over the years. And we knew they would argue for years about who was the instigator.

Gene and I both worked at preschools to help finance our college educations. And we had each inherited a couple of dozen Easter eggs after the preschoolers had finished dying their eggs. Gene and I had signed up for an Eastern philosophy seminar at the Sri Aurobindo center in Sedona. Being poor college students, we had opted for camping out rather than staying in a motel. And since it was Easter weekend, there were about a dozen families with children camped near us. Sometime after midnight, I believe tequila was involved, we decided that the children at the campground needed an Easter egg hunt. So we provided one.

Easter, like Christmas, is a strange time of year for anyone not entangled with all of the Jesus jazz. Rabbits laying chicken eggs is pretty bizarre. Especially chocolate eggs. The acceptance of such interspecies fraternization by fundamentalists is a level of hypocrisy I just don’t understand. Chicken and rabbits are ok, but two guys or two women aren’t? Hard core Christians will undoubtedly argue that Easter candy is not the focus of their celebration. This may be true, but somebody is scarfing down a lot of chocolate and marshmallow. And I don’t hear a peep out of anyone about a cultural attack on Christians and their beliefs.

Having spent time in parts of the world that are not dominated by Christianity, I can vouch for the fact that although cultures are different, everyone enjoys occasional holiday celebrations. While Christmas and Easter are not celebrated everywhere, secular or religious holidays are arranged conveniently around the solstices and equinoxes. That’s nice because I am especially fond of the spring equinox. It’s time to plan gardens, fishing trips, and camping expeditions. Spring is, of course, about renewal… about birth and rebirth. It is not a miracle to see leaves sprout from the dry casings that housed them all winter. But it feels like one.

Today the tree branch outside my window is bare. But in just a few rotations of the earth, it will be covered in green leaves that manufacture food for the tree. Again, photosynthesis is not a miracle but it is amazing none the less. Science is zeroing in on the exact nature of the process and will soon be performing it artificially. It’s that way with a lot of “unexplained phenomena.” Priests, shamans and their kind told stories to explain things like seasons, weather, disease, and anything thing else that people wondered about. Then along came science to offer reproducible and predictive explanations. I’m sure the parents at the campground did not believe that a real bunny hid the eggs for their children to find. They probably came up with logical, rational explanations. Although the idea that a couple of college students wanted to give some children a brief sense of wonder probably didn’t occur to them.

The current conflict between some religious folks and science is at least partly rooted in the desire to hang onto magical thinking and the sense of awe that comes with it. People are always praying for stuff and hoping it happens. And they are reluctant to surrender the hope and surprises that accompany that belief system. I understand completely even though I find that science increases my awe about life rather than diminishing it.

When I was five, I lived with my father’s French Canadian parents in a tarpaper shack outside of Essex Junction, Vermont. Pepe was a truck farmer and part time carpenter and life was hard and primitive even by 1955 standards. We had an outhouse, chamber pots, wood burning stove for cooking, and a coal stove for heat. Most of our meals consisted of food that Pepe had grown and Meme had canned the previous fall. With no stores nearby and a basic subsistence lifestyle, I ate every morsel of food offered to me. When I got an apple from the root cellar, for example, I ate every bit, seeds and all. That is until my mother explained that the seeds grew into apple trees. She assured me that they couldn’t grow in my stomach, only in dirt, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

Meme had Easter lilies in pots lining every window sill. Being winter, they didn’t get water and so the dirt had cracks in it. So into the cracks went the seeds keeping my tummy safe. When spring came, and Meme started watering the pots, apple seeds sprouted alongside the lilies. I had forgotten about them and was excited to see the first leaves open up on the baby trees. The adults were tickled by my Easter surprise and Pepe transplanted the sprouts into their own pots. Eventually, six of the sprouts became a small apple orchard behind the tool shed. And my grandparents even got to eat apples from the trees before they died.

The orchard is probably gone now, a victim of suburban development. But I’ll never forget the sense of wonder and hope as I carefully dropped each seed into the pots. I remember my breath icing up the single-pane, salvaged windows. I deliberately blew onto the glass and watched the ice crystals form. Then I used my stubby finger to draw the trees in the frost that I hoped would one day grow in the pots. As I have lived my life, I have tried hard to keep the perspective of that little boy who was sure he could grow an apple tree forest from the remains of his snacks. I have done my best to plant seeds whenever and wherever I could, always hoping to surprise people in good ways. Now if you will excuse me I have some chocolate eggs to buy.