The apple tree was glowing as though it were magic. What was an apple tree doing so far up the mountain? He wondered if he was dreaming or this was a vision. However hard he looked, though, the vision didn’t disappear. He could distinctly see each leaf shimmering in the light of the full moon. The tree was breathtakingly beautiful. Its vigorous branches reached out, every one heavy with leaves. He instinctively assumed that someone was using pesticides on it. It was an apple tree, after all, and such healthy leaves surely couldn’t be produced without pesticides. Kimura felt he’d been struck by a thunderbolt. It simply wasn’t possible. Not a drop of pesticide could have been used on that tree.
Forgetting the rope, he ran. An apple tree couldn’t possibly exist somewhere like that on the mountain. Running past it, Kimura noticed that the tree wasn’t actually an apple. This didn’t stop his heart racing. It was some sort of oak tree. It had probably grown from an acorn which had dropped on ground cleared on the mountainside by the army to grow feed for their horses during the war. It must have been one of those fields for growing fodder crops for military horses he’d heard about. The oak trees growing on flat areas of ground on the mountain looked liked apple orchards. To Kimura at that moment, the apple and the oak were the same. How could this tree produce such luxurious foliage without pesticides?
In a daze, he fumbled around in his pocket and lit a match. He went over to a tree and held the match up to it. Just as he thought, not a pest in sight. It wasn’t completely free of pest damage, or leaves that had been discoloured by disease, but most of the leaves were healthy. The answer he had sought for six years lay in front of his eyes. And it wasn’t just this oak tree. Trees of the forest don’t depend on pesticides. Why hadn’t this struck him as mysterious before? Why hadn’t it occurred to him as strange that plants growing naturally do so without the help of chemicals?
It’s not as if there weren’t any insects in the mountains. The insects were making a din. There was evidence of small animal activity all over the place. The pests in the orchards, like the huge slug, could well have come from the mountain. It would be the same for fungi and bacteria which caused disease. So why was it that those pests and diseases didn’t devour the oak tree? Kimura realized the reason the moment he set foot in this area. The apple trees around Mount Iwaki, this oak tree, they all breathe the same air, are bathed in the same sunlight. The conditions are more or less the same. There was, however, one fundamental difference. Weeds here grew unchecked, creating a dense undergrowth. The soil was totally different. Kimura feverishly dug into the soil underfoot, engulfed in a thick carpet of fresh green grasses. The soil was friable, easily dug with bare hands. Pulling up the grass, clumps of soil clung to the very tips of the roots. It was the first time he’d handled such soft soil. The scent of the mountain soil was pungent. That was it! He’d somehow have to produce this soil.
It felt as if someone was whispering inside his head, urging him to do it, rather than being just a hunch. Without thinking, he slipped some soil into his mouth. The inimitable aroma percolated through his nose and flooded his mouth. It was a sharp, yet indescribably wonderful smell.
All he’d thought about until that moment was the parts of the apple tree you could see, what was above ground. He hadn’t considered what lay below the ground, the parts of the apple tree you couldn’t see. All he’d done was spread manure and cut the weeds so they didn’t deplete the nutrients. Concerned about the condition of the leaves, he’d forgotten the apples’ roots. The oak tree had been growing vigorously in just that sort of grass. Were the grasses which grew around them the very reason the oaks were so healthy? This soft soil is not made by man. It’s a product of all the plants and animals living there. Fallen leaves and dead grass accumulating over the years are broken down by insects and tiny organisms and turned into soil. The roots of acorns and grass seeds which fall onto the soil go deep into the earth, breaking it up. Countless fungi and bacteria live both in the soil and on the surface of grasses and trees. Among these there are beneficial as well as harmful bacteria.
It dawned on him that no creatures live independently in nature. All life was interdependent, each life supporting another. He ought to have realized this before, but had overlooked the most important thing in his enthusiasm to look after his apples. All he’d been doing was searching for a means of killing pests and preventing disease in place of pesticides. He was trying to apply manure, cut weeds, and isolate his apple trees from the surrounding nature. He’d given no thought to what gives apple trees life. Even though he’d not been using pesticides, it was just the same as if he had.
He had simply thought that the apple trees were weakening due to disease and pests. So, if he could just get rid of them, the apple trees would return to health.
But this wasn’t the case. Pests and disease were, rather, a result. The apple trees were weakening so insects and disease were increasing. The oak trees ought to be vulnerable to attack by pests and disease. The reason they were so healthy was because they could protect themselves without the help of pesticides. They were in their natural state. The apple trees were suffering so badly from insects and disease because they had lost their natural strength.
However far he dug, the earth remained soft, and very slightly warm. He thought of the invisible, minute organisms living in it. If he could only regenerate the soil in the orchards, the roots of the apple trees were sure to grow. Then, like the oak trees, they would return to health. It wasn’t so much that he thought this; deep down inside he was certain that this would be the case.
He’d found the answer at last. To make sure, he dug the soil with his hands, smelt it, and again put some in his mouth and tasted it. He then pulled up some grass and checked, with trembling fingers, what the soft roots felt like. The full moon, gleaming white in the heavens, shone on his soil covered figure.