It’s strange to watch a tree die. It happens slow, over the course of years. You have to be in the same place, geographically speaking, for a long time to really see it. One year, apples are everywhere, a green tent dangling golden-pink orbs, a bird nest, the trunk ringed with grass the mower couldn’t reach. And the next year the same. And the next. Bite after bite of tangy sweetness and the trickle of amber juice running into an empty milk carton. A seasonal rhythm of green, yellow, red, cut, gather, crunch, squeeze, drink. Tradition develops, who knows when it started, but the apple tree exists and is watched and enjoyed. Laughter surrounds the tree as it’s shaken and climbed and loved through the warm months of a blessed childhood.
And one summer, somewhere down the line, many stories and maybe a degree later, a dead branch requires pruning. Was that there last year? The branch is cut, rusting teeth ripping shriveled, leafless wood. But the tree remains, the tree that’s always been there–the apple tree–it’s nearly the centerpiece of the yard. There’s still apples, of course. But the naked yellow hole stares out of the trunk like a lifeless eye; the tree’s symmetry disturbed, like an amputee. Eventually, the empty arm-socket loses its starkness, returns to the color of trunk, and the tree is again normal.
And the new normal goes on. Some more welcome summers of wandering through the yard, a much needed respite from the demands of Pepsi lunch hours and overdue time cards. The apple tree is noticed from a distance, maybe from the window in the midst of a microwave burrito. Fruit ripens anonymously, and then over-ripens, and falls unclaimed to the matted grass below. More dead branches; hags’ hands flailing from a gnarled trunk against a beige backdrop of an unseen sunset. A television rattles in the background, an apple juice commercial.
One weekend, the last hours of a busy Sunday, the maroon fangs of a dull saw again come to feast upon the six blackened limbs. Music hums in the background, earphones squeezed tight. Were there apples this year? It’s a fast job, a quick thought, onto the next task, and then the next. The checklist vibrates and tugs. What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? Branches burn in an untended fire, a garbage fire. Weeds dot the grass, and come nightfall, the apple tree slides into darkness, not even the glow from a nearby window to cast light upon the haggard and sparsely-lined hands carrying the last sickly-yellow embers of a forgotten flame.
And then, some years later, the question arises. A child. “What kind of tree is this?” A gentle correction, early grammar lessons. “Do you mean what kind of tree was that?” The apple tree is dead. A grey and weathered husk standing through sheer stubbornness, leafless and barren, an apple tree. The apple tree.
“Was it pretty?”
“It was beautiful.”
“Can we plant one?”
“We’ll find some seeds.”
The two turn to leave, to go home, to return to their manicured yard and garden, to their well-lit home. The man stops. Perhaps, maybe, possibly there are seeds, from the tree, somewhere. The two drop to their knees and peer through the knee length grass, searching. And as they crawl, feeling for the kernels of new life, the man sees the tree again, the apple tree, from the corner of his eye in the center of his imagination, lush and full, rustling in a timeless breeze. His fingers seize upon a seed, somehow a survivor.
“Got one.” He says.
“Let’s go home and plant it.”
“Yes, let’s go home and plant it.”