Sending Down Roots

We took out the apricot tree this weekend – or rather Jim and Chip did, since it

In Better Times

was Chip’s chainsaw and there was really only room for two in the work area.  I weeded instead, but stayed close to stand witness.

This was a heartbreaking job for us.  The apricot (a Tilton) was the second tree Jim and I planted after moving in to this house.  Unlike the apple, which has always struggled, the apricot took to our hot, dry little yard as if it had been designed for it.  It grew up with flattering speed and with the most minimal pruning took on a lovely broad-crowned shape.

We always knew spring was coming for real when the apricot started flowering.  Mind you, that flowering was often early, the fruit buds getting killed off by the frost, but even so a few covert blossoms would sneak through and give us some amazingly sweet fruit.

In those years the apricot tree did produce fruit, the end result was amazing.  One year there was so much fruit that the tree looked as if some garden god with an odd sense of humor had been out with crazy glue and lined the branches without rhyme or reason.

But gradually this fecundity began to ebb and the tree looked tired.  Leaves curled.  We found little holes in branches and trunk, did some research and discovered that in this area stone fruit (the class to which apricots, peaches, and plums all belong) are susceptible to borers.

This year the apricot tree didn’t even flower.  When spring came, two limbs didn’t come back.  A third made a valiant effort before succumbing.  We trimmed these and hoped the rest of the tree would make it, that the unusually cold winter would have slowed the borers.  No such luck.  We realized we could watch the tree slowly die for the next couple of years or give in.

We gave in.

Most of the job went smoothly.  The tree had been slowly dying for several years and didn’t seem to have much fight left in it.  Limb after limb dropped away under the chainsaw’s touch.  Even the trunk wasn’t too hard to reduce to a couple of tidy logs.  Almost no sap was running through what had seemed to be living wood, another indication of how bad the damage was.

Then we got down to the roots.  If the rest of the tree had given up, the roots had not.  Some of them were as big around as my arm.  Others were only finger wide, but wiry and tenacious.  Even the hair-fine ones were spread in a wide halo, grabbing every bit of moisture.

We’ve taken down the tree, but getting out those roots is going to take longer.  Since we want to put another tree in the same area, we’re going to avoid chemicals, so the process will involve hard work with a variety of tools.

Meantime, I’m thinking a lot about roots, about how many times as I’ve written these wanderings I’ve found myself going back to years gone by, to when I was very small, to high school, to college.  It seems that, like the apricot tree, I’m supported and inspired by invisible cables I’m not even aware of most of the time.

And like the apricot tree, there are new roots forming all the time, drawing in moisture, perhaps making for stories I haven’t yet formed.  My heart’s breaking for that little tree that put down such deep roots but still couldn’t make it.

Yet I’m glad to know that despite having been planted in unkind earth, the apricot tree had such grand roots.  I’m thankful for having this opportunity to dig down and realize how many and varied are my own.

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5 Responses to “Sending Down Roots”

  1. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Wow. That’s really moving. It’s the nice thing about writers. We can take a simple task and turn it into so much more.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s given me a few things to think about too.

  2. Ann M Nalley Says:

    Heartbreaking… It reminds me of so many sad witherings in my own life, some actual and some emotional, too sad to write about here. And it’s so true that few endings are instantaneous… the departure is a slow, sometimes imperceptible event, and time has to pass before the changes are marked. May this ending bless you with new beginnings, too, and again, I admire your courage (and Jim’s) for squaring your shoulders to start afresh.

  3. heteromeles Says:

    It seems like a lot of desert plants have more underground than they do aboveground. As you noted, that’s true for many people, too.

    Sounds like your yard is good for apricots. I hope you plant another one sometime.

  4. janelindskold Says:

    I don’t know if we’ll do another apricot tree… Knowing about the borers makes me reluctant.

    Did you know that the Navajo became tremendous farmers of stone fruit? When Kit Carson went after them, one of the first things he did was burn their peach trees.

  5. Dominique Says:

    This blog was so sad, I almost cried a little :(

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