A Niagara peach in August is a glorious thing. It is the perfection of fruit and a sign of all that is good and holy in this world. In terms of pleasure, a Niagara peach in the height of its glory, with its perfect curves, its cool smooth skin, its flow of sweetness, its tender flesh, for me ranks just above reading, and just—just—below . . . well, let’s just say that there is a reason why the rouge on the shoulder of a peach is called “blush.” A Niagara peach, in other words, is sublime.
This shouldn’t surprise me. After all, Psalm 148 tells us that peach trees can praise the Lord with the same volume as “young men and women, old men and children.” But biting into one of those glorious peaches I am treated to an unexpected, gratuitous goodness. There are good evolutionary reasons for peaches to be sweet, but not that sweet. There are good evolutionary reasons for peaches to be beautiful, but not that beautiful. Or maybe there are; it really doesn’t matter. Their praise is extravagant, and it rings just as clear no matter how they came to my kitchen.
As you will note, I’ve been contemplating peaches for the last few days. And during this contemplation Hopkins’ great poem keeps coming to mind:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Hands sticky with peach juice, I think this poem gets things partially right, and yet partially wrong.
My gushing about peaches attests to how much I agree with Hopkins that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. It is particularly charged in the Niagara region, I should add. Who knew such beauty and bounty could exist this side of Eden?
But he’s wrong to give trade and man’s smudge such a bad rap. Peaches, I learned, are oriental in origin. That is, they came to Canada by way of Europe, by way of Persia, by way of China. In other words, I can witness the divine because of the trade of many men and women through the ages. I can savour the sweetness of a peach because of farmers, scientists, Mexican labourers, and a friend from church worked to cultivate and deliver it. God’s grandeur is gathered together through the work of many. His “bright wings” lend his perfect beauty to our work, despite work’s bruises and rottenness. The result is a painting like a Renoir; imperfect, but no less beautiful for being smudged together.