Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Old Apple - Part I

[This is the third essay from the series "More Than a Shell." The first two are listed below.]

Our house has evolved along with the families who lived here. A haphazard mish mash of sheds and additions mark two hundred years of changing interests and needs. A door from the bathroom off the kitchen opens into the potting shed. A tool shed is tacked on behind. Like a caboose on a train, a playhouse brings up the rear. The apple tree growing in back of the house might have been chopped down for any one of these structures, but instead, they were built to wrap around the trunk of the tree.

The apple supplied shiny red fruit for pies, cider and cobblers. It was valued as a retreat for limb-climbing children and a shady spot for a cool sit-down after a morning’s work in the yard. It would have been a shameful waste to squander such an asset, so a couple of old doors, the wood still just fine, were used to encircle the tree and protect its bark during construction.

Since we’ve lived here, several large limbs have rotted and fallen. Yet the tree’s scars house birds and squirrels, and its apples, once shrunk to ridged brown walnuts, provide them with food during cold winter months.

I peer out an upstairs window through the apple’s crooked branches. A bright-eyed titmouse of soft dove gray perches beyond the windowpane. A flicker darts to the trunk, exploring the empty socket of a fallen branch, poking his head out a mite further down. Squirrel siblings clamber and chase the length of a massive limb; all of this life happening just out my window.

We love this tree, the eccentricity of its shed-wrapped trunk, the image of its inner tunnels and chambers, home to all manner of nibbling, furred and feathered friends. But we’d like to build an addition of our own - a New England-style porch. We imagine summer evenings spent lazing in green wicker chairs, or autumn afternoons warmed by an amber sun as we sit overlooking flaming red maple woods.

Of course, we want to save the tree, so we’ve called in the experts to gauge her health. Various treemen have walked around her impressive girth, rocking on their heels, speculatively eyeing our friend while scratching a chin. “Well, she’ll last maybe a year, maybe ten, barring high winds.” Five years ago the insurance company threatened to withhold coverage on the house if we did not cut her down. We had the tree pruned and wired and she squeaked by inspection, but clearly we’ll have to make a decision soon.

I cancelled the cut once already, like holding off putting an old dog to sleep. “She’s doing okay, it’s not time yet.” I get teary at the thought of gazing out the window to see only roofs. I'll miss the antics of a bright-eyed titmouse glimpsed through a veil of apple leaves.

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