September 25, 2013

The Death of a Tree

Yesterday afternoon I was in the vegetable garden picking broccoli and I happened to look up toward the northwestern edge of my field....something was wrong. It took me a few moments to realize that a large apple tree had fallen. It was near a huge old crabapple, and I used to string a hammock between them. I've lost trees before, but never such a large one. We get used to seeing certain forms in our landscape; this tree's demise will leave a blank space until my memory of it fades.

It was so sad to see its sturdy trunk lying horizontally...

....and its roots upended, a mournful illustration of the word uprooted. The death of a tree is not an unusual occurrence here; the woods are full of broken trees and dying stumps, but unless one falls in my path, which happens fairly often, I don't usually notice. This tree and I have a long acquaintance, and it will be missed as a good companion.

Another sad fact is that this year the tree was loaded with apples; in my 20 years here I've never seen so many. They are winter apples, ripening very late in the season for winter storage, so they are still on the tree, still not ripe. It's possible that the heavy weight of fruit was too much for the old tree and it succumbed to heavy winds.

Now these beautiful apples are close to the ground so all the deer in the neighborhood can feast on them. I will have someone come and cut up the wood into stove length logs, so it will keep me warm next winter; then I will spread its ashes on the garden for fertilizer. The tree will live on, as all matter does, in another form.


  1. Sorry for your loss, Altoon. It's wood will serve you well when dry enough for your fireplace. This was a year for excessive fruit on the apple trees and peach trees near me. The sickle pears, though, did not do well. Perhaps the overly wet ground did not serve the root system in a healthy way. We still have lots of ground water from a lot of rain this season.

  2. God that was shocking
    well-written as always in your spare style
    I think about that too, how death is evident all around us in the woods and it seems normal
    but I think it is right that we do pay particular attention to particular life and deaths around us in our small circles in the world
    vacuuming and mowing are special horrors for me . . . .
    thanks for this one

  3. Thank you all for your kind comments.

  4. It has been a banner year for apples — even on our tree which we don't spray or take care of because there usually aren't that many apples and none of them edible. This year the tree is loaded with huge apples. Our tree is 64 years old and won't be with us too many more years. It was never pruned properly in its early years and has a crotch split where it is taking on water. Hate to imagine the garden without it, so I sympathize with you.

  5. Sorry to hear you lost such a good friend. It is odd that our apple tree is almost dead this summer too. It couldn't even muster a few apples this year. It is a sad thing.

  6. Altoon, I'm so sorry. But I love the saying that there is nothing more alive than a dead tree. If you can keep the deer away, the apples will still ripen on the branches. It would be nice to let that happen. It may be the first time you were able to fully harvest those upper reaches, and in this year of such bounty. You will have the apples this winter, and the wood for next, but why be in a hurry to cut it up? Spring might be soon enough. The snow and sun can claim victory for a season, no harm in that. They always win, or so they think. Burn it where you can appreciate an open flame. Nothing burns like well seasoned apple; yellows, reds, blue and green. Apple twigs thrown on the Webber give off a lovely smoke for meat or fish. You may find that the roots send up suckers in the Spring if you don't mow too close, and the Stump will feed a new generation in defiance of those too quick to cite impermanence and in collaboration with the forces that will put it down again. Perhaps there is a meditation here, so many echos. Apple, the symbol of love, rebirth, and beauty.

  7. Lovely eulogy. Thoughtful comments by John which I second. You will sense the depth a natural demise adds to the landscape.

  8. Thanks again for your wonderful comments. It seems that the death of a tree touches many of us. I will take John's advice and wait until spring before having the wood cut up. I'm curious if the apples will become tasty over time.