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Pomona Tale

I know the ways of apple and almond, pear and pomegranate, the netted cherry and the sanguine mulberry. I know the secrets of grafting scion to stock, and the perfect moment of the ripeness of a peach. I have picked off beetles and set traps for caterpillars, chased away deer and outsmarted squirrels. I know how to encourage rooting by placing a wheat seed in the split stem of a cutting, and how to prune a rose to produce the most hips. I water my fruit-trees deeply and feed them well, and they reward me with luxuriant health and an abundant harvest, so that my walled orchard is truly Paradise.

Somehow, however, it got around that I was unmarried. Since apparently this was not to be borne by the men of my country, I was beseiged with suitors, plentiful and persistent. As if I have time! All the wild and uncultivated men of the world came to my door then, woodsmen and hunters, sheperds and satyrs—even Silenos, that tipsy old goat, made his bid for my hand, though him I turned him down with kindness.

You'd think they would put it together that I was unavailable. I believe now my refusals must have made me an irresistible challenge, but at the time all I knew was aggravation and frustration—couldn't they leave me to my work?

They were so hopeful.

A farm boy came one spring day, peeping over my fence, watching me as I worked. He finally got up his courage and asked if he could marry me, a ridiculous proposition. I turned him down gently, for I felt rather sorry for him. He was just so young!

Next a plowman came to observe me over the wall with his old eyes the color of earth, promising to be my faithful husband. He too, I sent away.

Then came a gardener, stationed in the same spot by the wall, watching me dig a new bed for the apple seedlings. How he could find me attractive at that time was beyond me—my face was pink and smirched, my hair knotted in a scarf any old way, fingernails dirty, clothes spattered with the muck I had been kneeling in—how marriageable could I possibly have seemed? But he, like all the others, asked for my hand in marriage, and incredulous, I said no.

"Lady", he said then, "it has been three times now that I have asked to be your husband. What will it take to win you?"

Oh really! Well. I looked at him warily and said, "Show me who you are."

Then the light shifted and I saw him clearly—a young man all in green, his body lean and lithe with hard work, his curling hair dark as the new-turned soil in spring, his hands capable and callused and generous, smiling at me with a gentle openness in his face. Well then. He was certainly pretty, and I'll even go so far as to admit I was tempted, but…

Then he asked what variety of apple I was planting in the bed I had turned. How did he know I was planting apples there? Did I think that dates were worth growing this far north, given how difficult it was to winter them over? Had I had any luck with persea-fruit? At that I tossed him a persea-fruit from a basket; then I brought him to my date palms, small but healthy in their sheltered spot on the south side of the wall. He showed me a trick to make sour cherries sweeter; I showed him how to double their yield. We agreed about grafting, argued about pruning, and discussed rootstocks for pears; then he told me of his love for the smell of the warm moist earth and the feel of the soil in his hands, the abiding wonder he felt each time he planted a seed, and the amazement and privilege he experienced in tending to flowering and fruiting life.

Well! Why hadn't he said that in the first place?


Ch'ang O