Mary's Farm: The Irony of a Tree
Around this time of year, I start thinking about pruning my fruit trees. A few years ago, I planted a couple of Macouns, my favorite of all apples, and a Reliance peach, known to be rugged in cold climates. I still worry about mice chewing on their trunks at ground level, and then there are the deer, which prune for me in ways I don’t approve. So these trees are at risk, probably for several more years. Last year, I got a budding yield of four apples and one peach, a delicious start. What I’ve come to count on for harvest are three old trees–a Seckel pear and two enormous apple trees. These big trees have taught me a lot about nature’s resilience.
When I came here in 1997, I thought of these trees as the anchors of the house. I had no idea how old they were, but their impressive size made me think that they dated back at least 100 years. The irony of a tree is that one can’t know its age until it’s dead–or perhaps that’s the beauty of its being. In any case, these two apple trees rose up beside the driveway like proud guardians, each of them easily 20 feet tall, one of them maybe even 30. On the other side of the drive, the tall pear stood in balance. But only a few days into my ownership of the property, an ice storm visited this hilltop and brought down many trees, including much of one of those big apple trees. And the pear tree was so badly damaged, I almost cut it down–it looked as though it were made of coat hangers, and it bore no fruit later that year. At the time, I felt that these trees would never recover.
It was the apple tree that worried me most. When I’d first looked at the property, that tree had an endearing reach, the branches undulating outward in a kind of longing to escape its roots. After the storm, most of the tree was cut up and removed, but there was what one might call a sucker, a hefty trunk that had grown out of the base, outward like a branch, with that poetic stretch. The tree man was afraid it wouldn’t stand up on its own, so he found a suitable crotch and wedged it up into the tree, a kind of life support. By doing that, he likely saved its life and restored the tree’s poetry. In the years since, it has developed a graceful gooseneck and a lovely, well-shaped crown. Eventually, the pear recovered, as well, and in the late fall now I can stop under it and enjoy a snack of its small, yellow, blushing fruit, sweet as candy.
Somehow, this long, slow process restored my faith in nature. The trees are far too tall to pick–even the lower branches require a ladder–so I rely on drops. Good enough. I’ve found that by mixing the apples with the Seckel pears, a wonderful sauce results. The only thing I add is a cinnamon stick. I make sauce in the fall and freeze the many quarts, which last me all the way to spring. I don’t prune these trees or worry about the mice or the deer. I do hope they live forever–or, rather, that by the time they die, I’ll be gone, too, or else too old to count the rings.