Susan went out to Paxford.
She took an apple from the tree, as the gardener invited her.
”A nice orchard. Wonder how old it is?”
”Oh, about two thousand years I guess," in his slow accent which some described as a drawl, "unless it is three thousand …”
Su look at him and he continued:
”Actually it started out as a single apple tree. It eez of course buried very far down, you cannot dig that deep."
Su looked even harder at him … not in a harsh, but in a very curious way.
”The soil we see, it is mostly from apple tree leaves and when it had started to cover the original tree, its branches started to become stems and take roots.
”So when their stems started to become covered with soil from apple tree leaves, their branches too started to become stems, and to take roots. And over the millennia the things that appear to be stems are by now ten, though they all started out as branches and the real stem is buried one hundred feet under ground, covered with soil that was once apple tree leaves."
Su did not quite belive him:
”But you planted some, didn’t you?”
”I never planted a tree in my whole life or my whole carreer as a gardener! How would things look if gardeners took care of the planting of trees?
”I mean, in that case we could plant trees anywhere we liked, even on house roofs, and nobody could be sure where the next apple tree would sprout. No, no, no … You got that totally wrong. All the trees in the orchard sprung from one single apple tree that sprang from an apple seed planted here by a bird three thousand years ago."
”Even the plum tree?”
”Sure enough, even the plum tree, you see, apple trees will evolve into plum trees under the right conditions. Under the wrong ones they will evolve into quince, real hard ones that you cannot eat but have to make marmalade of …"
She closed her eyes and opened them to make sures he was not dreaming. “You’re pulling my leg, right?”
”No, I am not, I have my hands on the spade, see … and I would not touch a lady's leg I wasn't married to, for that matter.”
She was somehow sure there was a joke behind the serious and even doleful façade.
"Wait a minute, Mr. Paxford, with 100 feet of soil, wouldn't it be unstable?"
If she had awaited one of his usual dire predictions, which somehow never came true - as far as the Lewis brothers had told him - she was not disappointed.
"Of course it is very unstable! Every once in a while it gets flooded and soil is lost to the sea or to land along the Tideway."
"But then it would not be any 100 feet of soil left by now, would there?"
"Of course not. The 100 feet down is what it would have been like without all the flooding. Many a tree trunk that was below us rotted into soil but was then flooded away."
"So basically the upside down pyramid of tree trunks becoming sideroots to branches becoming new tree trunks are purely theoretical?"
"There you have it. Wonder if there is even ten feet of soil below us with all the floods that happened."
"Do you think we risk one soon? I mean the Thames was flooded back two years ago ...?"
"Seeing what all is coming to, I should'nt wonder if there came a flood soon. Except, on days when I see a rain bow in the sky, I think the next disaster won't be a flood, it will be a fire ..."