A little orb in the big scheme of things

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Here’s a quiz.  Fill in the missing word in these common phrases or titles:

  1. Don’t sit under the __________ tree with anyone else but me.
  2. An ___________ a day keeps the doctor away.
  3. One bad ________ spoils the whole barrel.

If you didn’t put the same word in all of the blanks please get in touch with NASA; they’ll want to know which planet you just came from.

Consider please, the apple, most common and ancient of fruits. It’s so common, in fact, that it seems essential to life, like water or air.  The shiny orbs pop up as reliable metaphors and examples in almost every aspect of our existence and our thinking, much more often than any other food I can imagine.

Think about it. To be patriotic is to be as American as apple pie, to be a favorite is to be the apple of someone’s eye, and when somebody causes confusion we say they’ve upset the apple cart.  Our largest metropolis, New York, is called the Big Apple, and the juxtaposition of things totally dissimilar is called comparing apples and oranges.

The apple has probably been the model of more still-life paintings than any other subject in the history of art.  We use them to describe everything from anatomical structures – the Adam’s apple – to seasons, as in apple blossom time and apple picking time.

They’ve long been utilized as a currency for bribes, as in the proverbial apple for the teacher.  And in Greek mythology it was a golden apple that was thrown down in front of three narcissistic goddesses.  “Tia kallistei” (To the fairest) was inscribed on the fruit.  And since each of the three thought she alone fit that description all Hades broke loose, resulting in the Trojan War.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats describes a beautiful girl as having apple blossoms in her hair and – in the same poem, “The Song of Wandering Aengus” – he defines pure perfection as “the silver apples of the moon … the golden apples of the sun.”

It was, remember, a single apple that fell on one man’s head that changed physics forever.  As one historian put it: “millions saw the apple fall, but Newton was the first to ask why”.  And when we’re not surprised when a child behaves like one of his parents we say an apple never falls far from the tree.

This most unassuming of fruits – nutritious, delicious, and bountiful – has worked its way into both history and folklore; ancient Roman armies planted seeds as they marched along their newly constructed roads to conquer the world; that way there would be something to eat on their return journey years later.  Johnny Appleseed performed the early American equivalent. And let’s not forget the brave (or perhaps stupid) young Swiss lad who let his father, William Tell, shoot an arrow into an apple perched on his head.

Last, but most certainly not least, you might recall that it was an apple that that darned snake offered in the Garden of Eden that got mankind off on the wrong foot.

You are probably thinking, about now, that I’ve rambled on for too long about a seemingly unimportant subject.  But I respectfully beg to differ.  Anything that has played a part in things as lofty as the law of gravity, the conquering of Europe, the definition of perfection, and the fall of mankind is worth a perusal.  Don’t you think?

History tells us that President Lincoln ate just an apple for lunch every day, washed down with a glass of water, which he called Adam’s ale.  And former Supreme Court justice David Souter, a quiet New Englander, had the same simple taste as Honest Abe, making do with just an apple, which he consumed in what he called the “Yankee style”, core and all.

I have one with my lunch pretty often myself, but I stop munching at the core.  And I have a sandwich or a bowl of soup with it. Because, as surely as God made little green apples, I seem to require a larger lunch than certain presidents and judges.

Bite into a big, juicy apple today.  And think of all the history, philosophy, religion, literature, and countless other things you’re partaking of.

In addition, you might just be keeping the doctor away.  It’s flu season, remember.

[This particular apple first fell from the tree in a Sunday newspaper column in 2011]

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