It was late afternoon but still a warm day, with a slight breeze picking up, blowing in from over the water. The two men rode towards town and then turned onto a side street heading to the east. The bicycle was loaded down tremendously with numerous packages, large and small, tied off to the frame, the handlebars, and the rack over the rear tire. String and duct tape held the packages in place though they dangled and swung wildly as the bike coursed across the gravel road, dodged pot-holes and the occasional errant squirrel, and bounded forward, driven by the strong legs of Father Davidson as he stood on the pedals and pulled aggressively on the handles. His passenger held on as best he could, gripping the edges of the seat tightly, with both legs extended stiffly out to the sides, tensed and quivering, as he worked hard to keep the soles of his feet from dragging across the street surface just inches below them. Both men appeared to be enjoying the warm sunshine on their faces as they held their heads slightly upturned to the sky. The Father veered off the main road and onto a smaller dirt driveway, past several old cars, and an RV which were all parked along the side. Just over the rail fence which lined the driveway on one side, was a large meadow—an old orchard actually—although the grasses and field-flowers had grown so tall, and had filled the space between the ancient fruit trees, so that now it was difficult to see them all.
Father Davidson stopped near the fence and I dismounted and shook my legs out a bit to relax them after the strenuous ride. Several people emerged from inside the RV and a couple made their way from the orchard walking towards us, as the Father leaned his bike up against the fence. He turned to me and asked if I’d mind if he left me here for just a little while, he had something that needed to be done and would return within a half hour at the most. He ducked through the rails of the fence and walked off into the grasses between the fruit trees, passing the couple as they made their way up to his bike. I saw them exchange pleasantries as they passed but nothing more than that.
Everyone seemed to know exactly which packages attached to the bicycle were for them as they untied them from the frame, handlebars and rack. I asked how they all knew the Father and they answered that he let them stay here on his property and eat whatever they wanted from the trees and surrounding vines. Tara, the wife of the couple who had walked up from the orchard, said that the property actually belonged to the Father’s two sisters, he had deeded it to them years ago before he left the country, but now that he was back, the sisters of course let him use the property as he wished, for whom he wished, and he also lived in a small cabin which he had built on the far eastern edge of the orchard.
“It’s incredible,” said Adam, Tara’s husband. “The assortment of trees that grow here, things you wouldn’t normally find in this climate: avocados, even some citrus, and nuts, and then of course figs, various apples, pears and plums and some other things that are more typical. He has grapes and kiwi too, would you believe it, oh and pomegranate too.”
“Where do you stay?” I asked them.
“We have a tent set up under the trees,” said Tara. “It’s wonderful. We have no place else to go. It is a Godsend. It really is.”
“We’re staying in the RV,” said one of the others, though he didn’t share his name.
I looked around, it really was a beautiful place, wild and unkempt, yet with a natural order, bountiful and welcoming. Everyone looked happy too and appeared to belong here, at peace and untroubled, even though by the looks of them, they had no money and little material wealth to fall back on when times grew tough, which they already appeared to have done.
I looked at my watch, wondering where Father Davidson had gone off to and when he’d be back.
“He’ll be back soon, he just went off to pray,” said Tara as she noticed my unspoken question. Then she smiled. “He’ll be praying for you now too. He prays for everyone. Several times a day.” Everyone in the group smiled about that. “It is very sweet,” added Tara. “He is very sweet.”
Later, Father Davidson showed me around the orchard, introducing me to the various trees, and telling me a little about their histories, their provenance, where they originated and how they came to be thriving in his garden now. Some had been growing there for many, many years, particularly the apples, for longer than most people knew. While others had been planted within the past decade; several were gifts he brought back with him from overseas. As the sun set below the western tree-line—taller windbreaks made up of conifers in the distance, and poplars closer in—we all gathered around a newly made fire, just beginning to crackle and spit. The fire grew within the ring of rocks which anchored a clearing that had been created in the midst of the orchard. We made “hobo dinners”—potatoes, carrots, onions, and a variety of other vegetables also grown on the property, all sprinkled with salt, some pepper, along with rosemary and thyme—all wrapped in foil, and placed in the midst of the fire, or tucked into the hot coals which had been gathered along the edges for greater convenience.
As we ate our dinner, someone asked Father Davidson about his time overseas, if there was anything he would share.
“Yes, there is,” he said. “I’ll share the desert with you. Because that is the most precious gift I carry with me from that time. It is the most important thing I believe, and maybe I can take you there. Hopefully I can take you there. Maybe you’ll come with me.”
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