Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Where did all the apples go?

No end to the natural mysteries we encounter in our yard.

Last year, right after Tropical Storm Irene, the birds vamooshed -- the most abrupt and total disappearance I'd ever seen at the end of a summer. Back then, we had the storm as an excuse; this year, they all seem to have disappeared with the same abruptness, but now no excuse. It's been a gentle progression from late summer into early fall, mostly fair weather, yet now they're all gone. Only the year-round species to be seen. Huh? It used to be a more gradual process. What gives?

In the same vein, we had disappearing fruit this year, as well. Our three ancient blueberry bushes put out an immense crop, to the point where I couldn't keep up with it. Fortunately, blueberries last longer, both on the bush and in the fridge, than the more tender fruits like raspberries, so I picked at my convenience.

Assorted events caused me to miss a week, but I wasn't worried. Pounds still remained on the bush. But when I went back to get them, every last one was gone, not even a berry on the ground. Presumably birds were the culprits, although that didn't feel right. In the preceding weeks I had seen only a few birds dipping into and out of the bushes, even when it was well loaded with ripe berries. So what made them suddenly descend like a plague of locusts and strip the branches bare?

The same thing happened with apples. Last year was the bonanza year on our tree; more apples than I could pick, process, give away, throw away. An insanely huge crop! So this year I didn't expect much; it's rare to have huge fruit or mast crops in succession.

Sure enough, this year the crop was light, but it was definitely there, and started to drop in August. Each morning I arose to half a dozen to a dozen on the ground, all sizes and degrees of ripeness, usually no good to eat owing to a worm or a fungus or a bird, rodent, or raccoon bite. But I salvaged a few for us.

Then, again, I had to leave town for almost a week. Upon departure, there were still plenty of apples up in the tree. Way up, where I would need a ladder to pick them. But no worries: Based on previous years, they would all come down.

So I was astonished to find the tree absolutely bare of fruit when I returned. None on the ground, either. How the heck did that happen? Deer are the obvious explanation, but hey, they don't climb ladders -- how could they reach the top ones? And birds don't carry away fruit of that size, and raccoons leave a bunch of broken stems and twigs when they shimmy up and grab, and squirrels leave a lot of half-eaten ones around. No sign, however, that anything had been there. No sign that any apples had existed.

I guess there's a black hole passing through the neighborhood that's sucking all the birds, berries, and apples into it. Can't think of any better explanation for the collective vanishing act!

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