Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Written more in essay than story form, this first-person narrative reveals how the narrator has only belatedly resolved some important differences in his life. These differences appear in two primary forms: those that he willfully maintained between himself and his stepfather from the age of twelve until well into his adulthood and those between the outwardly ordered, apparently immobile orchard groves and their living residents, growing “in a time and on a plane inaccessible” to the casual observer.
The narrator’s stepfather was an orchardist “of the first rank” who was nurturing and confidently rooted in the world, while the narrator was full of desire to travel from the time his stepfather entered his life until he left home for college. As a youth, the narrator regarded the differences between his stepfather and his hired helper, Ramon Castillo, as reflecting more favorably on Ramon. He regarded Ramon as more sophisticated at the time because of his obvious expertise in gardening, his completely composed attitude, and his many girlfriends.
Not only did the narrator fail to understand his stepfather’s basic humility, he also misinterpreted his stepfather’s true love for his work—which the narrator saw as merely a form of pride or gratification. As a teenager, he acknowledged only his stepfather’s slavish attention to details, the outward results of the orchardist’s craft, and the prisonlike orderliness of his orchard rows. Both his stepfather’s orchards and his stepfather himself offered much more than a casual, or perhaps indifferent, view of their surfaces might have revealed.
Now living far from his rural childhood California home, the narrator has found serenity among the filbert orchards near his riverside home in western Oregon. Even the not-too-distant apple and pear orchards of central Oregon contribute to his peace of mind. He recognizes that his peace is linked, through the orchards, to his stepfather, who is now dead. The only lingering discontent that he feels is his shame at not recognizing earlier the depth and purpose of his stepfather’s life. Nevertheless, he has now found such serenity that he accepts everything peacefully, even his previous losses and sorrows. Only now, after years of observation, does he see the “exquisite tension” of life straining forth from beneath the external immobility of each growing fruit tree.