April 3, 2014

My Old Apple Trees

We have finally been blessed by a few lovely early spring days, mild (at least close to normal temperatures after the bitter cold of recent weeks) and sunny. It is the kind of weather that invites me to begin my first outdoor chore of spring: pruning my ancient apple trees. There are 15 old trees––antique varieties such as Duchess of Oldenburg, Peach, and Sops of Wine––in a small orchard behind the house, and two more in the field to the west. Each spring, as I do my pruning work, I renew my acquaintance with the trees, and each spring, I am more keenly aware of their mortality as branches, and entire trees, die.

The trunks and branches of the trees have other lives on their surfaces, creating new landscapes on uneven bark.

On the same tree, a crevice hides what looks like a slime mold, not a happy organism for a tree; it connotes decay.

Many of the trees have large cavities, and holes through their trunks....but they are still leafing out, still producing apples during their every-other-year schedule.

The evidence of decay, however, is strong: insects devouring a branch....

....a tree's interior open and worn, yet graced by a frilly dress of lichen.

The pale green lichens that decorate the trees are especially beautiful against a deep blue sky.

This small branch seems almost prehistoric, a bumpy living surface of varied colors and forms, the bark barely visible. Slow growing lichens attest to the age of the trees, and make them look more ancient, like a wizened face. I love these trees because of their aged character, and have to accept that like myself, they are closer to the end of their lives than the beginning; this awareness makes each year precious.


  1. Everything about this post is remarkable Altoon. The theme, the details, the photos and the generous insight you share about your own mortality. Thank you!

    1. Thanks so much, Julie; that is high praise indeed, and I'm touched.

  2. Altoon, these photos and reflections on the aging apple trees remind me of Jane Brox's Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family. Wonderful memoir by a woman who grew up in the Merrimack River Valley/Haverhill MA area and went home as an adult to help...Brox is a New England treasure if you don't know of her....

    1. Thank you, Heather, for the reference to Jane Brox, whose work I did not know. I looked it up and see that the book you mention, and others, are ones I would be very interested in reading.