Kimura still talks to the apple trees when he’s in the orchards. Even when I was doing my research, he would often say things like ‘No. It wasn’t me. It was the trees that struggled.’ This was said more to encourage the apple trees that were within earshot, rather than out of modesty.
‘You’ve done so well.’
It may sound strange, but watching Kimura, smiling, eyes half-shut, talking to the trees, I really began to feel that he was getting through to them. The branches were swaying and the leaves rustling even though there was no wind … ‘Steady on!’, I thought, blinking in disbelief. It was surely my imagination? Maybe, but I was certain about one thing. He was in all earnestness talking to the apple trees.
It wasn’t until he recognized that he would achieve nothing by himself that he was, in a very real sense, able to face the apple trees. Kimura speaking to the trees comes from a deep sense of gratitude. Whether the trees are listening or not is not an issue. Apple trees are not machines manufacturing the fruit we know as apples. They have their own lives and place in the world. This might seem pretty obvious, but believing that with all ones heart is another matter. He knows this better than anyone. This is why he speaks to the trees. It is Kimura, a human being, standing before a living apple. It’s not superficial. It’s something he’s finally come to know after countless failures and after endless struggles.
Looking round the orchards he was shocked. He could see something clearly which, back when he thought he had it in himself to do something, he simply couldn’t perceive. There were eight hundred apple trees in Kimura’s four orchards, and they were all starving. They were dying.
What on earth had he done? Whatever it was, all he could do now was to bow his head before the trees. He didn’t mind if they couldn’t produce any fruit; all he asked was that they didn’t wither away. That they survive. Kimura was not confronting the apples with his experience or knowledge, but with his very being. Kimura had said that it was at this moment that he was at his most honest. From that day on he began to listen to the apple trees. Every leaf, every branch, was the voice of an apple tree. He hears their vitality in the fresh green leaves of early summer, and words of gratitude in the plump fruits of autumn. His talking to the apples is only in reply to these voices. Kimura continues to talk to the apples in the same way to this day.
Perhaps the years Kimura spent struggling were, in the end, the time he needed to come to terms with the apple trees. When Kimura says ‘It’s alright to be crazy’, this is what he means. Experience and knowledge are vital for people to get on in life. A store of experience and knowledge are necessary if you want to achieve something. That’s why we label someone without experience or knowledge stupid. But when someone takes on a genuinely new challenge, experience and knowledge may be the greatest obstacles.
Each time Kimura failed, he discarded a piece of common sense. After he’d failed a hundred times, a thousand times, he finally understood that his experience and knowledge were of no use in the challenges he faced in life. It was then, for the first time, that he was able to see the apple trees with an open mind. He’d reached an enlightened state of mind. Having reached it, however, didn’t mean that anything would change. Just because he’d spoken to the apple trees didn’t mean a miracle was going to happen. He was living in the real world. As a farmer, and as a man who grew plants for food, Kimura understood that only too well. Nature is the work of providence. Providence is not affected by our prayers or thoughts.
And it was in the real world that Kimura had to do something. He knew that his knowledge and experience were of no use. He had come to see the apple trees for what they were through an awareness that he and the apple trees shared life on earth. Yet now there was only him and his inability to do anything, and desperately weak apples which were dying.
Things couldn’t come to a dead halt. He had to move in some direction. The path Kimura set out on was an astonishing one. Aware of his own powerlessness, the conclusion he came to may have been inevitable, but what transpired was of mythic significance.
The myth of death and rebirth. Kimura, like his apples trees, was close to death. He had no choice but to follow the path he was on.