In May 2006 the spouse and our oldest boy, who was then three, planted an apple tree in the back garden to mark the spouse’s birthday. We had two little boys then. It was an Empire, a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh, an ideal apple to eat right from the tree.
I planted daffodils under it, hoping for another baby. I had had this dream, you see, when I was in graduate school, and lonely, and we were not yet married and not living in the same city. It was a dream of a baby, sitting among daffodils under our own apple tree in our own garden next to our own house. That baby, our last, arrived in August 2008 and sat beneath the tree the following May.
We had our first real crop three years after we planted it. That year, the little boy who had planted it with his dad started biking to school on his own (not so little any more). I noticed that every morning that fall he went out to the garden, picked himself an apple and got on his bike. He didn’t ask, or discuss it with us, he just helped himself to his own apple from his own tree.
It grew broader and I had to trim a branch off one side so that the children didn’t gouge themselves during their vigourous swinging on the hammock.
As the tree grew, birds came to it, and the squirrels, and the children sat in its shade. We buried the collar and tag of our first cat, Beatrice, under its branches after she died at the age of sixteen in May 2012. Our next cat, Georgia, liked sharpening her claws on its trunk just as much as her predecessor did.
Since we planted the tree during a rather intensive child-rearing period, I skipped a number of the tips Ed Lawrence always gives on CBC Radio here in Ontario on Monday afternoons. I didn’t wrap the trunk to protect it from the nibbles of mice under the snow; I didn’t prop a plank against the south-facing trunk to protect if from the freeze-thaw cycle during the winter; I didn’t do much pruning or dormant-oil spraying in February. After a few years we noticed an ominous fissure in the bark near the ground.
Then one day last August I came outside to see my beautiful tree, laden with apples, lying on its side. The strong winds the day before had knocked it clean over. This was also the day before we were to leave on a camping trip to the east coast so I had not much time for grieving then. We picked all the apples we could and left the tree on the lawn until our return. In September I cut up the branches and made applesauce (the last batch!) from the almost two bushels of apples that were that tree’s final contribution.
And now this spring there is an absence in the garden. The garden feels more open and airy and I have some ideas about other trees to plant and changes to the layout of the garden. Still, this beauty is no longer there. I remember its blooms and this poem always brings them back to me.
The Stolen Branch
By Pablo Neruda
In the night we shall go in
a flowering branch.
We shall climb over the wall
in the darkness of the alien garden,
two shadows in the shadow.
Winter is not yet gone,
and the apple tree appears
into a cascade of fragrant stars.
In the night we shall go in
up to its trembling firmament,
and your little hands and mine
will steal the stars.
to our house,
in the night and the shadow,
with your steps will enter
perfume’s silent step
and with starry feet
the clear body of spring.