June 5. Back in early April, I wrote a piece lamenting my barren walnut tree.
A metre-long stick had arrived from a garden centre, and despite the most careful planting, had refused utterly to grow. All around it, Spring burst into life. The forsythias, lilacs and wisteria bloomed, the fruit trees blossomed, the daffodils, tulips and roses flowered, the lawn grew, even the adjacent beech hedge, always the last to move, had become a shiny green wall. Still, every morning when I went glumly to inspect its corner of the garden, nothing had moved. Then one day, a definite swelling of the buds, and, earlier this week, finally shoots and leaves (see photo).
Readers will recall the Biblical story of Aaron’s rod during the plagues of Egypt:
Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. (Numbers 17: 8).
Thus with my rod. ‘Almonds’ may have been a translation error for walnuts. At a time when rational, quantifiable evidence about our present circumstances and future prospects is in such short supply (see ‘Miscounting’ on June 2) foundation myths, metaphors, parables, have a particular attraction. Insight and comfort can be afforded by such verbal constructions, particularly when they are enshrined in authoritative documents.
So what does my walnut tree mean?
Clearly there are opposing interpretations. On the positive side, the tree represents the triumph of persistence over doubt (my life-partner was heard to pass discouraging comments about the entire enterprise of walnut trees during the barren weeks). It represents the unshakeable rhythms of nature in the face of man-made misfortune. It represents an investment in the future, however uncertain our present times.
On the negative side, look more closely at Aaron’s achievement. His rod produced blossom and fruit. Mine has grown only leaves, late in the season. No walnuts until at least next year, no serious crop for some years beyond that. We’re not there yet. So also, most probably, with defeating the coronavirus. Even in those countries which appear to have suppressed death and infection, there is no security that the plague will not return, whether as a small upturn or a full-blown second wave. It will be around next Spring, and could well be a permanent presence in all the future that we can see.
But that is the point of such stories. They can contain opposing meanings. As also, when it comes to it, most current statements from the Government.