Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Parable of the Low Hanging Fruit (Part III)

Omniscio approached Agrono with a respect he afforded few, being quite careful not to play his hand too early or too overtly. He employed the scholar’s gifts of patient, deliberate questioning, asking at first broad, then increasingly precise questions about Agrono’s life and craft. Agrono, too, knew he was in the presence of exceptional intelligence and was complimented by the fact that such a man would come such a distance and show such interest in him. He invited the scholar to share his family’s food and shelter, and Omnicio readily and gratefully accepted for he knew that he was too far from the Academy to return before the next morning. Though Omnicio was an orphan who had not known what it was to be amid the bosom of a loving family, he could see that Agrono was a fortunate man, possessed as he was of a lively and loving wife and two hale, eager-minded boys. He was pleased and surprised by the generosity of the care and comfort he was afforded by cultivator and his family. And when the family grew tired, Agrono invited Omnicio to stroll with him through the orchard and the two were soon in deep conversation.

Omniscio learned that the orchard did not belong to Agrono but to the powerful Aquisitivo family. For his services, Agrono had been given use of the orchard house and allowed to keep or sell one-fifteenth of the yield. Omniscio teased out these details as skillfully as Agrono coaxed the lush notes from his pipe or the luscious fruit from his trees. And, at some point, Omnicio came to realize that there was an opportunity before him far grander than he had initially imagined. The scholar’s epiphany was stunning in its simplicity and significance. He did not need to convince Agrono to sell his fruit to, but to grow his fruit for, the academy.

“Agrono,” the scholar said, “We have much in common. You cultivate trees and I cultivate young minds. We both seek to bring out the best in what nature gives us.”

“Indeed,” say Agrono, pleased with the aptness of the analogy.

“It seems, then, we should work toward the same ends.”

“How so?”

“I have the need for fruit to feed my charges and you have the ability to grow it. I have land but no orchard. You have an orchard but no land.”

Agrono’s face suddenly took on a glow that was greater than the bright-lit moon.

“Are … are you … saying .. that .. you will –“

“Yes, I will give you land if you will give me an orchard. I will give you not only one-tenth of the crops but one-tenth of the land that will be set aside for the orchard. You will cultivate the rest for the academy.”

“Further,” said Omniscio after a moment, now feeling magnanimous in the face of the greatness that he knew would soon redound to him and his academy, “I will educate your children when they come of age.”

Happier souls in any one place on any one evening would have been impossible to find, and the glorious possibilities that had opened before them caused both to dream all night but not sleep. Each man began the next day convinced that they were forever changed and that they were on the threshold of all that life could offer.

Though the Aquisitivo family was stunned by Agrono’s request to leave, they concluded that their compliance might predispose Omniscio to enroll their obtuse offspring in his great academy. And so it was that Agrono left not only with their good graces but, in thanks for his many years of loyal service, the cuttings of their most fruitful trees.

Days and months of bliss followed as the two watched their dreams take ever more certain shape. The land for the orchard was demarked, cleared and tilled. Agrono laid out the design using stakes and strings to create a perfect symmetry. Then the cuttings were placed carefully in the soil and tended with great care. With the benefit of propitious weather, the plantings grew until Omniscio from his study atop the tower could see a great orchard in miniature, and, with little imagination, how wondrous it would be someday.

But, when winter set in, Omniscio once again grew distracted, this time by the news that fewer students were seeking enrollment than in the previous year. The great scholar was determined to know why. Several possibilities emerged: there had been a great sickness in the land to the north, a flood had diminished the harvest in the south, several expensive expeditions had been lost at sea, and there was a war in the west. And, yet, while all of these may have taken away the sons of some families or left others unable to afford the cost, Omniscio was not satisfied with these reasons. Was not reputation of his academy such that it could not draw from a larger realm even as parts were beset with difficulties? Then the scholar heard reports of other academies springing up, many hoping to imitate his success. Of particular concern was the establishment of a new school by two very credible scholars, Heuristico and Hermeneuti, which was only six days journey hence, four by land and two by sea.

Truth be told, that which drives one to become a great scholar is not the mere pursuit of truth. It is as likely to be fueled by the repellent of fear as it is the propellant of curiosity, one part running toward something noble and one part running from something base. So it was that even the singular scholar found himself filled with foreboding at the thought of being eclipsed. He knew that Heuristico and Hemeneuti were not of his caliber, but what if they if they had something that he did not, some natural advantage that would allow them to make more of their modest abilities? He read all he could about the province in which their new school was situated, and asked all those who passed through his school what they knew of it. To his horror, he learned that the new academy was situated in a region considered ideal for the cultivation of fruit trees. Indeed, it had been dubbed by sailors and merchants “the Orchard of the Middle Land.”

Omniscio wondered, “Could it be that they located their school there for precisely that reason? Have they stumbled on what took me months to discover? Is it possible that theirs will become the more prized and prominent academy not by dint of their scholarship but simply because they are awash in fruit? And if they were only six days away, how long before the powerful families, the promising students and the accomplished scholars would choose them over me?”

It was in this inflamed and unscholarly mind that Omniscio spent the winter and, at the first sign of spring, called Agrono to his study in the tower. Agrono, a great observer, noticed immediately that the man in front of him bore little resemblance to the one who had been so solicitous in the orchard of the Aquisitivos.

“Agrono, are you sure our orchard has made sufficient progress?” he asked.

“Oh yes,” said Agrono. “The soil is rich and the weather has given us what we needed when we needed it.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” he interjected. “I know all that. That’s what nature does … but what can you do to help it along?”

“I can listen. I can watch. I can touch and smell the soil and sense what it needs. I can prune certain limbs so the entire tree will grow stronger. I can be on guard for frost.”

“Of course, of course, but what of science?”

“What I have just described to you is science. I have observed and experimented over many years. I have learned from the land.”

“But the yield, the yield, how do we increase the yield?”

“The yield of what? More fruit or better fruit? We must respect the time it takes to produce the best fruit.”

“Well, why not make the orchard larger?”

“The more trees I have, the less attention I can give to each.”

“Then I might have to hire other cultivators,” the scholar said because he had not heard what he wanted.

Agrono shrugged. “The best of them are long in the making and hard to find, like the best of scholars. More is not better.”

Omniscio, seeing he was getting nowhere with this rustic, bade him good fortune for the coming season but, as soon as Agrono left, he muttered, “How dare he compare his work to mine. I am a great scholar and he a mere cultivator.” But Omniscio had forgotten that he had been the first to draw the comparison and failed to see that it was, if anything, more apt than before.

But because the crushing weight of false hopes are never shouldered by their creators, they are not readily withdrawn or reconsidered even when the most capable and conscientious carriers falter. And so it was with Omniscio. Not hearing what he hoped from Agrono, he sought out others who would tell him his hopes were not false but pinned on the wrong person. But when the wisest were reluctant to draw that conclusion, he descended to those within the Academy given to baser instincts. And, yes, unfortunately, there were some who thought Agrono had achieved too much prominence in the Academy; after all he was not a scholar. And, some, simply assuming they knew more on any and every subject than Agrono, scoffed “Well, the cultivation of trees isn’t exactly astronomy, is it?” Still others speculated that Agrono had outlived his reputation or grown complacent. But, the best captured the great scholar’s attention was Irrasciblo, who said knowingly, “Omniscio, there is no end of low hanging fruit out there in the orchards of the wealthy. You don’t have to have Schiavo buy more nor wait Agrono’s slow-growing trees. You need only ask.”

And, while Omniscio had been dismissive of Irrasciblo’s observations up to that point, he now thought, “I’ve got to give it to the old fellow. He’s dead on the mark. Here I have gone from relying on one provisioner who meanders from market to market to one cultivator who trundles from tree to tree, but I have never thought of going right to the most bountiful sources and asking! And surely they will be honored to give a bit of their surplus to a great academy.” And all he could see in his mind’s eye was orchard after orchard festooned with fat fruit that would fall to the ground and rot if it were not soon picked and presented to him.

The great scholar then turned his mind to where such orchards might be, especially those that could be reached in the shortest time, and immediately thought of the orchard of the Aquisitivo’s. There they were, almost in his own backyard, and they could not have been more pleasant the last time he visited.

As Omniscio approached the orchards of the great family, his hopes soared at the sight of so many boughs drooping with such pendulous fruit. He was well-received at the manor until he asked the great lord and lady to share a portion of their apparent abundance. After a long frosty silence, they explained, through taut lips and downcast eyes, how with all trouble in the land and the resulting fall in prices they would be hard pressed just to get by if they could not squeeze every bit of profit out of every piece of fruit. And, as they offered this grudging explanation, they thought to themselves, “Who does this egghead think he is? First he takes our cultivator and the cuttings from our best trees, then comes begging for our fruit. And if we give him any now, what will there be to hold over his head when we want our obtuse offspring to be admitted to his school?”

So Omniscio left empty-handed and returned to the academy even more frustrated with Agrono. He called the cultivator to his study again and put even more pointed questions to him but Agrono seemed to blunt each and everyone causing Omniscio to wonder if this seemingly simple soul was better at cultivating clever answers than cultivating productive fruitful trees.

(Part IV will be published on Friday, January 29; Part V on Sunday, January 31)

No comments: