Mary's Farm for April
April 13, 2012The 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 a bit about mice chewing on their trunks at ground level and then, there are the deer who do the pruning 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 have 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 the resilience of nature.
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 they dated back at least a hundred years, perhaps more. The irony of a tree is that one cannot know its age until it is dead. Or perhaps that is the beauty of its being. In any case, these two apple trees rose up beside the driveway like proud guardians, each of them easily twenty feet tall, one of them maybe even thirty. On the other side of the drive, the tall pear stood in balance. But only a few short days into my ownership of the property, a horrific ice storm visited this hilltop and brought down many trees, including two thirds of one of these big apple trees. That is just a very short list of the damage, which also included the pear tree, so badly damaged, I almost cut it down. In my first year here, that tree looked as if it were made of coat hangers and it bore no fruit. At that time, I felt these trees would never recover.
It was the apple tree that worried me most. When I had looked at the property, that tree had 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 and probably should have been nipped in the bud but it had grown outward like a branch, with that poetic stretch. The lean was sufficient so that the tree man was afraid it would not 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, the man likely saved its life and restored the poetry to the tree. In the years that have passed, the apple tree has developed a graceful goose neck and a lovely well-shaped crown. Eventually, the Seckel pear recovered as well and in the late fall I can stop under the tree 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, 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 or else too old to count the rings.