Apple tree requiem, or praise for its rebirth?

November 12, 2011

Trick or Treat? It was waaay too early for that first Nor’Easter snowfall – wrong holiday anyway. It should have been dubbed a “Nor’Weener.” With electricity now fully restored, we’re left surveying damage to ornamental landscaping and shade trees blamed for loss of power when snow-laden limbs snapped. The clean-up continues.

When the snow arrived, leaves were already off our maples, ash and birch. Oaks and beech retain their leaves and carried a heavier snow load than their leafless cousins. The pines and hemlocks folded closed like umbrellas.

The storm wrecked the canopy of one cherished front yard apple tree. That tree witnessed much in its 90 years. I have a 1920’s vintage, black and white postcard showing nursery stock planted in the dooryard of the historic inn which burned in the 1960’s. The apple tree grew another half century. I live there now.

Typically, apples are among the last trees to lose their leaves. Our front yard tree was a late variety that held a heavy crop of near-ripe fruit. That late bearing characteristic which contributed to its demise in the storm made the tree wildlife magnet for decades. In November, deer gathered beneath the tree after dusk. In December, turkeys scratched frozen apples from shallow snow. Winter resident birds used that tree as a staging area near front porch birdfeeders. The old apple tree was a fixture adorned in fragrant spring blossoms, summer foliage, autumn fruit or bare winter branches.

After the Halloween snowstorm mischief, I left its canopy wreckage lying in the yard. I now face an irreversible decision: leave the crooked trunk with one lone pitiful branch or cut it down and buck the trunk into firewood. Apple wood burns well with blue flames leaving long-lasting coals while wafting the sweetest smelling smoke.

Late-poet Shel Silverstein’s classic 1964 story The Giving Tree relates how a mature apple, offered a boy branches to climb, apples to eat or sell and shade in which to sit. Eventually the boy asked for wood to build a boat to sail away. When the boy returned years later, a tired old man, the Giving Tree then offered its stump, all it had left, as a place to sit and rest.

I think the old tree deserves a chance to re-sprout and grow into the future. It isn’t pretty – its gnarled and crooked trunk has only one branch. Like an old friend, it sports fine lines, wrinkles, hollows and scars of old wounds. To wildlife who continue to seek sweet, late apples, the tree is special – it has character.

Plus, I’m just not ready to concede to the “stump-sitting” stage myself.