After about an hour, the bus deposits us on the side of a road marked ‘Laoshan’. Green and imposing, the mountain looms ahead of us as we follow signs for the visitor’s centre. Walking up the long, open drive, we’re surprised to see a race set-up, complete with banners, a podium, and a finish line.
I’d already been working at the site six months. The land had previously been used as a dumping ground, but with council permission and money, it was now a new green space with individual plots for members. The first task was to clear the land and prepare the soil. I spent months of Saturdays alongside other volunteers, removing utensils, plastic bags, old clothes and broken bottles from the ground. One day I dug out a telephone. I thought of all the buried conversations and wondered what had become of them.
When I walk through the orchards, I notice which apples seem starved of sunlight. These are the smallest apples, their color a uniform green-yellow, the branches of their tree unable to reach the next one over, leaves lacking in all but chlorophyll. This tree is weak, leaching what little it can when the others need nutrients too. I pull out the Swiss Army knife in my pants back pocket and begin to cut at the trunk, only specks of young bark flaking away from the mass. I cut until the sun leaves no more light for me to distinguish finger from bark – until everything fades to silhouettes and the moon reflects off the blade into my pupil, a piercing glare.