Monday, December 11, 2006

A Time to Prune...

I stared at the tree. The giant apple tree in my yard, that graces my yard with fragrance and white flowers every spring. That beckons deer and other various wild four-legged creatures to enter what I so bravely claim as "mine," and snack on the spicy, tangy fruit as it begins to drop in the fall. It is huge, massive... and dying very, very slowly.

So we broke out the chainsaw. You know, the machine that sends tremors through bark thicker than your grandmother's beard. I felt bad for the tree--my nosy, old neighbor who thinks no one has anything better to do on any given day than talk to him for hours on end told us that the tree was the only one left from an orchard that use to span acres up here in our little town. We stare at it, and I wonder briefly what the proper way to say goodbye to something nearly 100 years old. Something that, unknowingly sentient to us, has seen more of the world than I will probably ever will.

But she is dying. We break out the ladder, and I climb up her as far as I can, noting all the woodpecker holes, the knots, which limbs seem already dead and which ones seem like they may survive another year. The massive trunk splits into four columns that climb toward the sky in reverence to the life-giving sun it has looked toward for decades, and I straddle between these columns, trying to see if any of them are salvageable through the wick alone.

We decide to give it another year overall, but that two of the four columns must come down. It's either the tree or the house. And though we have home-owners insurance, and the old tree has certainly been here since even before our home was built, we're going to try for this compromise.

That compromise is put on hold for about an hour as we wrestle with the freakin' chainsaw. I wonder if the tree views us, trembling, pissed, scared, perhaps even hopeful as pull after pull on the starter cord produces nothing more than a whine and a whirr. How many generations have plucked a juicy, bright red apple from her limbs? Enjoyed nourishment and life due to her plump, flavorful fruits?

We get ol' Bessie started. It may be my imagination, but the tree seems to bend away from the noise, like a four year old scared of her first visit to the hair dressers. I touch her trunk, and nod to Rich. It's time to take off the limb hanging in the rear, whose branches are all half-dead and rotted. He feels no such compassion for the life he is chopping apart. He hates trees, thinks they are messy litter makers that make it hard to mow in straight lines. (This has been a point of contention as I survey the many many baby trees I have planted since we bought the home five years ago: three Poplars, a hybrid Poplar, a Weeping Willow, a green Japanese maple, two silver maples, three nut oaks, a few birch, some cherry trees... Yeah, I'm a tree nut. I'm expecting four walnut trees to pop up in the spring...)

But none of them will compare in size for years to this majestic queen of the yard. She is joined by six other huge trees, to be sure. Two very large blue spruces, a gigantic hemlock, and two silver maples I'm told are about fifty years old each. But she was the crown jewel. The provider of the yard, dressed in flowers each spring as its long bouquets dipped down to the grass; feeding the bees, ants, humming birds and woodpeckers; again in the fall, when the deer, squirrels, raccoons, and rabbits would gather each dawn to eat the fallen fruit on the ground. Birds would nest, squirrels would race up and down her long limbs from our roof to the hemlock, from the hemlock to the roof, back and forth in a never ending game that none of us could figure out, but seemed to be very enjoyable.

It isn't long before we hear that CRACK which signaled the end of one of its columns, it's massive, over-arching columns. While Rich busied himself with chopping the wood into burnable size pieces, I counted the rings on what I am referring to as Casualty Number 1. Casualty Number 1 was 88 years old. Eighty-eight. A long, full life. As I look over at the bits and pieces of what remains, and I can see the hollowness, the emptiness which was her heart in the upper branches.

She was dying anyway, I tell myself. She was dying. We call it a day, and I rub the stub that created a trio. Next weekend, we will evaluate Casualty Number 2. I have a knowledge that she will also come down, but I also know that 3 and 4 are healthy and strong, solid and sturdy. They will bear fruit for years to come, and will also keep intact the Squirrel Superhighway above the pool, from the hemlock to the house, from the house to the hemlock.

As we climb into bed that night, I pull back the curtains. The neighbors light shines brighter now, with one column now gone. But I know that, with this pruning, the other two branches will produce better, juicier fruit. It's veins will bring more nutrients to the remainder, and in turn, make the tree stronger and healthier. And though the pruning is hard, scary even, we all need to prune occasionally. If only to remember life, and the many fruits to be enjoyed.


Weird said...


That is a great bit of writing! Just thought you should know.


mom said...

hello jason! boy it almost made me cry on the tree thing. nothing like the home movie of the tree removal back at grandmoms old place and our old place. :) think of yourself a doctor and rich as the nurse who wants to retire and the tree having an operation on her body to remove old parts so she can move around a bit more. she won't be moving around the yard but growing maybe a bit taller and out. something like when i got my new hips. :) well, i didn't have time to read everything in your blog since its a very busy time of year. i am santa and mrs. santa and elves all rolled up in one at this time of year! but i am having fun being all this! love and prayers

Jason Hughes said...

Thanks, Weird! I always enjoy positive feedback! :D

And mom, don't cry! The tree will hopefully come back fuller and more lively next year... I hope...