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The View from Mary's Farm

Mary's Farm for April

April 13, 2012

the survivor
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 Ė 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 donít 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. Iíve 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 donít 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, Iíll be gone or else too old to count the rings.

Selected Works

In 1992, the Bishop of Worcester condemned St. Joseph's Catholic Church and ordered it closed. The parishioners refused to leave, sleeping on cots and on the hard pews. For thirteen months this was their life. In July of 1993, they were removed by the police. In many ways this was the blossoming of their faith. Originally published in Yankee Magazine in November 1993.
Growing up, nothing I could do seemed to please my mother and nothing she said made sense to me. But when my mother, on the threshold of death, came to live with me, I found what seemed to have been lost forever. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1995
(The follow-up article to Miracle at St. Joseph's.) The Bishop turned to them and said, "Your prayers have been answered, the hard hearts have softened." Originally published in Yankee Magazine, December 1996
A reflection on the power of cooking and friendship and the concept of family. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, November/December 2007
Memorial Day, Harrisville, New Hampshire 1995. Originally published in Yankee Magazine, May 1996
My Articles
Libraries occupy a special place in the heart of a town. Evening events at the library give a strong sense of community and make it seem like a great place to live. And in the wake of the online revolution small town libraries have found a way to not only survive but to be indispensable.
In December 2008 an epic ice storm left virtually the entire state of New Hampshire without power. The residual effects of that storm paralyzed the Monadnock Region almost through Christmas. A first person account.
In 1994, sixteen-year-old Billy Best was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. After several treatments, he ran away to avoid chemotherapy. What happened after that may have been a miracle.
Roxanne Quimby once lived primitively in the Maine woods. Today she owns 90,000 acres of those woods, and her goal is to create a national park to preserve the landscape forever. So why do so many people wish she'd just go away?
Multi-million dollar border stations are rising along our line between US and Canada. What was once the "friendliest border" has become deadly serious.
Renowned short story writer, Andre Dubus, reflects on the accident that cost him his legs.
A trip to Poland discovers a beloved family friend
An elegy for the master of the short story.
Fall comes to The County
Thousands seek healing from this innocent, comatose child.
A complete listing of articles published since 1978
An encounter with a sick fox brings a young woman to the heart of her grief