It was 1985, six years since he stopped using pesticides in all the apple orchards, and spring was turning to summer. Kimura, as usual, was in the fields from before dawn to dusk. He acted as he always did when he was in the orchards with his wife and other family members. He’d either be catching insects with a supermarket bag hanging from his wrist, or spreading vinegar. By this time, it was mostly vinegar he was spraying the trees with.
Of all the foods he tried, the most effective seemed to be vinegar. One disease that affects the fruit and leaves of apples is apple scab. It is caused by a certain fungus. He’d take a leaf marked with dull black lesions and spray it with vinegar. In the days when he had a little more time, he used a toy microscope that had come with a supplement in a learning magazine he’d bought the children, to watch and see how the growth of the fungus was halted by the vinegar.
Yet spraying the orchards had little effect. He was using a solution diluted three to five hundred parts with water. If it was too concentrated, the apple leaves would end up being discoloured by the vinegar. All he could do was dilute the vinegar. Meanwhile, alternaria blotch was on the rampage, leaving him uncertain as to whether it was having any real effect at all. The only thing that spraying vinegar achieved was help to ease his mind.
If there wasn’t enough money to buy vinegar he’d use citric acid. He could get this for nothing from a factory which produced grape juice. Although he took the trouble to get hold of citric acid, dilute it with water, and spread it, the apple trees continued to weaken. Rather than helping to ease his mind, continuing with the spraying was probably more a question of him simply not being able to stop.
At least catching insects and spraying vinegar with his family made some sense to him. Even if it wasn’t working, they were at least doing something to try and save the trees. However, the picture of Kimura alone in the orchard after the rest of his family had gone home was a bizarre one.
His wife had once returned to the orchard to get something she’d left behind, to find Kimura talking to someone beside an apple tree. Peering through the gloom she realized there was no-one there. Her husband was the only person in the orchards.
Yet he had definitely been speaking to someone. She couldn’t hear what he was saying from that distance, but she could hear his voice on the breeze. It had an apologetic, beseeching tone. A short while later, just as if he were greeting it, Kimura reached out to the trunk of one tree, then went over to the next tree. There he began talking in the same manner. He looked up at the topmost braches whilst he talked, gently stroking the insect damaged leaves. Kimura was apparently talking to the trees. He was going slowly around the orchard, talking to each tree as if he was having ordinary conversations.
She wondered whether her husband was finally going round the bend. It would be perfectly natural to think so, but Kimura seemed to be behaving so naturally that she found this hard to believe. One farmer talking to apple trees wasn’t going to do any harm. The only thing worrying her was what he was saying to the trees. She felt the urge to get closer so she could hear what he was saying, but stopped herself. She felt that doing so might destroy something precious.
‘I was walking around the trees praying for them. They were getting very weak. It’d probably got as far as the roots. The trees rocked unsteadily if you pushed them. I reckoned they’d die if this carried on. I walked, head bowed, from tree to tree. I told them ‘I’m sorry for what I’ve put you through. I’m not worried about the blossom, or the fruits, just please don’t die.’ I was at my wits’ end. I couldn’t talk to my family about it, so I carried on in the orchards as I‘d always done. There was nothing more I could do apart from pray for the trees. I suppose that people in the surrounding orchards that saw me must have thought that I’d finally lost my marbles. But thinking about it now, that was me at my most honest.’