One apple tree

By Alice Rose

Righting a seven-year-old apple tree, even one advertised as a dwarf, is no small task. I speak from experience. On the morning following the October snowstorm, I looked out the kitchen window to the field to see our Macoun apple tree resting on the ground. You could say it was at 8 o’clock, in full leaf with each leaf weighted by wet, heavy snow. A goner, I thought, most likely snapped at the base, and went out to shovel snow from the end of the driveway and under the mailbox.

Days later, with little snow remaining in the field and none on the Macoun, I decided to check out the damage. Despite care and feeding, the tree had yet to produce more than a few flowers in spring and no fruit. With no future apples to miss, I dreamed of the sweet smell of seasoned apple wood burning in the fire pit. As it turned out the tree had not snapped at the base, perhaps because the earth was not yet frozen. Half its roots were loose and close to the surface, though, the half opposite from where it lay.
“We ought to prop up the tree as much as possible before the next snow,” I suggested to my husband, Peter.

So, after searching here and there for what would serve as a sturdy stake, along with some rope, and locating our ancient sledge hammer, we set about trying to do just that. To be fair, Peter was dubious from the start, convinced that even if the tree survived, raising it from 8 o’clock to 12 o’clock would require the lawn tractor, which was in its winter resting place in the shed behind all the lawn furniture and several dozen large clay pots. Survival seemed unlikely, but the urge to save the tree outweighed the pull to leave it to its fate. Trees fell in the woods around us regularly and over the years we have had others taken down. I hadn’t planted those and so about them I was philosophical.

It took maybe five minutes to discover just how difficult a job we had undertaken. The Macoun is 10 feet tall now and at least five feet wide. All the branches pruned away earlier seemed magically to have reappeared. In short, the tree was heavy, very heavy.

Peter joined me in trying to leverage the tree up with the rope. Picture it: two elderly people, one rope and one tree. Needless to say, the tree wouldn’t budge. I got under the tree and pushed up with my shoulder being sure to engage my thigh muscles, of course. The tree didn’t budge. In the end, we found a longer rope and staked the tree in place, bent over with its lower branches touching the ground. I shoveled a little garden soil on top of the loosened roots and called the nursery where I bought the tree for advice.

“Apple trees are resilient,” the young man assured me. His instructions: use the tractor to gently pull the Macoun to its original 12 o’clock position and stake it, making sure that the rope does not girdle the tree; in the spring apply a root stimulator. The roots will re-establish themselves; the tree will survive. He warned us to “expect smaller fruit next year.”

Macouns can be temperamental, producing one year and not the next, for reasons known only to its nature. Ours has yet to produce one apple. Still, on Sunday before the ground freezes, I will unbury the tractor and gently return the tree to 12 o’clock and stake it. In A Sand Country Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes he is “in love with pines.” Me, I love apple trees. At my age resilience means a lot.

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