[Spoiler alert! You’ll read orchard very differently after reading this! Don’t read below this image unless you want a very different take from the one you may have in your mind. You are hopefully thinking of an orchard, and an experience from your childhood walking through trees, and having the light flicker on your eyelids, and remembering what it was like to know and not know so much as a child – that’s what I hope you will think of, among other things. That is my hope, but the poem has its origin in an unexpected place. End spoiler alert.]
orchard was written after reflecting on the most unlikely portrait of my wife and I from the year 2002, and being overcome by a powerful, difficult to describe set of feelings. The poem tries to capture them. The portrait was painted by a painter and friend, Todd Orchard.
Why is this portrait unlikely? In 2002, Todd Orchard was in the same congregation at church where we were attending school. Heidi and I were preparing to move from Utah to New York to start chiropractic college, an enormous life transition. We were so broke. Todd was painting a series of portraits for his MFA, I believe, and asked if he could photograph Heidi and I for source material for a portrait.
From that session, he created this beautiful painting.
This portrait was painted of us, but wasn’t painted for us. That is just one of the things that makes it so unlikely. Todd showed us the finished portrait before we moved a thousand miles away in 2002. We loved the portrait – but buying a portrait at that time was just impossible. I took a picture of it and printed it out so I would always have at least a paper copy.
And then about 10 years went by. We lost touch with each other long ago.
And then, through social media, my wife got in contact with the Orchard family again. She asked Todd if he still had the portrait he had painted of us a decade before.
Heidi asked if he would be willing to sell it to her for a birthday present for me for my 40th birthday.
Todd did the beautiful custom framing job and shipped it to us in New York from Utah where we were then living, the portrait taking the same journey we had over a decade ago.
And that is how we ended up with the most unlikely portrait of all time.
I love this portrait – I don’t think that it would likely have been painted the same way if it was being painted for us, instead of being painted of us. But I love it. It reflects a time and a moment in our lives as we stood on the cusp of a huge transition – a move across the country with our 3 children and our dog. A start of new professional education. A huge leap. It’s a time I can look back on with nostalgia now, even though I know that how I remember it being is different than how it was. I’m also remembering it through the eyes of someone else’s painting, so it’s also filtered through their perception.
That’s where this poem comes in. I was reflecting on this portrait… I see us then … eyes closed in partnership … we were children and we didn’t know we were children ….
And those shadows of shadows – when I look on this portrait – the memory the portrait evokes is really my memory of the memory. It’s colored by all that has happened since. It’s Plato’s shadows on the cave wall. The memory is beautiful – and it feels like that painting feels – and I feel like we knew something.
I wrote this poem to try to capture some of this feeling, and those reflections, and what we knew then, and what we know now. And all the life in between. And I named the poem orchard in honor of the painter of this painting, and to hopefully evoke something in the reader from their own childhood past.
Originally, I printed the poem with the end coming first, and the title in the middle, and the beginning last – basically starting in the middle of the poem – so that the reader would unknowingly start at the end of the poem, then read the beginning to the middle, and then hopefully go back and reread the whole poem. Iterative – shadows of shadows – the memory affecting the present affecting the memory affecting…. like the experience of viewing the portrait. Ultimately, though, I presented it in the format seen here, read from beginning to end. I think it is a sweet poem, in the sweetest and gentlest meaning of the word.
Huge thanks to Todd Orchard for such a beautiful painting – and for keeping it in his attic or wherever it was. Connecting with it again after 10+ years was like touching the past. He does beautiful work. You can also see some of his paintings here.