Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Falling Over Tree

Century-old apple trees are a thing to behold and taste, and our apple orchard is a testament to the old timers who settled this valley. The other day, we lost one of the biggest and prettiest Kings on the property. It smashed through the aged cedar rail fence that keeps the sheep off the lawn, its wide canopy laden with small, unripened fruit scattered in the grass. Certainly the spread of branches from ground level was impressive. And sad.

It's a mystery why the tree fell over, but I suspect gravity and time (of which I am becoming more and more familiar) had a fair hand at it. The day was clear. The wind blew in from the ocean, mild and gusty, but nothing to cause alarm or even worth attention. Working in my office, I thought I heard something slide and fall. Was it off the roof? Since our shake roof is slowly disintegrating, it seemed likely, but there didn't appear to be anything on the ground when I got up to look. I decided some papers on the bed near the window must have blown to the ground. Who would know? The office is piled in stacks, one as wind-swept as the next. I was late for an appointment and took off for town without wondering further about what I had heard, or maybe imagined.

Our daughters greeted me at the door on my return. Had I heard anything funny while I was home in the morning, they asked? I shook my head. No, nothing unusual, except for a sound like papers falling off a bed. Why? Caitlin asked me to follow her. Did I notice anything? With all the greenery of spring and summer, the area around our house is lush to the point of suffocation. I stood my ground and looked harder. My eyes settled on a mass of leaves crushed into the edge of a flower bed. Or, at least, what has been a flower bed.

I looked at the fence, walked around to check the torn roots of the tree, walked into the middle of the canopy spread gracefully across the lawn, and finally wondered whether any of the sheep had taken the opportunity to escape. No, the tree was too intimidating lying on its side for any free-for-all dash to the grass.

And, that was it. There was nothing to do about it. The tree was way too large to set upright again, at least with any of our equipment. It had only taken out a rhododendron in the flower bed and a fence that could be repaired. We had lost another King a year prior that had managed to take the top off an adjacent tree as it fell to the ground, making a huge mess and reducing our apple harvest by half.

That evening, I showed farmer-woodsman Greg the tree when he came home from work. Soon enough he tackled the behemoth with his chain saw and within a weekend the tree was cut up and gone to the wood pile and the burn pile. Of course we are in our no-burn season so the burn pile is the current eye-sore. We won't be able to see past it until mid-November, at least, when the rains start again in earnest, and the fire department relaxes about folks setting the mountains alight.

This tree produced a lot of apples over its lifetime and also a lot of shade in the summer. With two large trees and the top of a third gone in two years, I wonder what our orchard will look like in years to come. It is probably time to be the next old timers referred to years hence. We need to plant some new trees of our own.

Which gets me to thinking: the people who live here come and go faster than the trees they plant. I always point out the multi-trunked cedar planted by the old timers when they were little boys - which would make the tree over 100 years old. There is the Monkey Puzzle tree Gisela put in maybe thirty years ago, and the kiwi she trellised to climb up to her son's bedroom window (I'm darned if I can remember why).

Soon, there will be trees we have chosen - to propagate, to harvest, to hold the stories of who we are and what we eat. And surely someday we will be referred to as the old-timers who lived and worked this farm and who, one day, maybe for no reason other than age and gravity, fell over to make room for the next generation. (While I hope this is many years hence, it's not a bad metaphor for the passing of time and the celebration of yet another birthday!)

Photos: I took these shots of our apple tree to show how big it was because, once cut up and gone, it's hard to remember.

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