Growing up there were three apple trees in our backyard. I loved one tree the most. It's apples were red--not yellow and green like the others. The apples from that tree were crisp and tart, unlike any apples I've ever tasted. After a good frost they were cold and juicier than before.
One day, as a child, I found a small knife. It was silver with a pearl handle. Unlike the pocket knives my father used to cut string from hay bales, this knife didn't fold up. I liked the way the knife felt in my hands. I liked using it. It was light and comfortable. I took that knife and began stripping the bark off the apple tree--my favorite tree.
I stripped long strings of bark from the trunk and main branch. I watched the bark curl, exposing the fleshy wood underneath. I thought nothing of it, until my parents found me knife in hand, carving into the tree. They were not happy. What was I thinking?
My parents explained that stripping the bark from the tree had made it vulnerable. I'd exposed it to disease, to insects, to the elements. The tree, they said, would probably die. I cried and cried. I loved that tree. I loved its apples. I hadn't meant it any harm. I hadn't understood that I was doing something wrong.
It was the first time that I remember making a big mistake without realizing I was making one. Until that point I honestly thought that I'd have a clear understanding of my choices; that I'd always clearly know wrong from right. Instead I'd made an unintentional mistake.
The tree lived. For many, many years it bore the scar I gave it. It may still, although I think it's grown over. I still love the apples from that tree. I wonder how many unintentional mistakes I've made throughout my life, and I wonder when I'll realize that I've made them. I only hope it won't be too late.