I am not many things. An arborist is among them.
Unfortunately(?), with this house, I have become responsible for a smallish apple tree. I was excited to discover that it was a fruit tree when we first toured the place — there were a few sour greenish apples clinging to the scraggly branches. I didn’t know anything about apple trees, but this still seemed like a positive development.
I have since learned that apple trees are basically livestock.
I bought it a friend, a little Chehalis apple tree, so it could produce more fruit. I watered and fed it.
Like sheep, apple trees also need to be trimmed. Branches cross, or grow from weird, narrow angles, or jut straight up in the air. They weaken the tree, which sends its energy reserves to put leaves and buds on these branches that will inevitably snap in the wind and never bear fruit. They’re a source of illness, insects, and injury. In the event of some kind of apocalypse, it won’t take very long before it’s no longer fruitful — fruit trees as we know them have developed alongside humans, and we rely on each other for survival.
So that’s how I ended up on the internet looking up how to beneficially injure a small tree.
Narrow branch angles. Crossed branches. Watersprouts. I memorized what each one looked like, and how to best cut them. (At an angle, as close to the branch collars as possible.) Then, armed with a set of hedge clippers and a pair of saws, I trudged out to go sort shit out.
I should note that I was not prepared for how much work it’d be. I figured it was cold out, so I dressed warmly — winter boots, my wedding sweatpants, a flannel, et cetera. Within minutes, I was stripping down.
The actual pruning process wasn’t too intimidating. The tree’s a dwarf, so it was easy enough to navigate the branches. I left some that I know I shouldn’t’ve, just because they were providing support for a wild grape vine that I’m hoping will return next year. Others, I either snipped with the clippers, or carefully sawed through while muttering apologies through clenched teeth.
If anything, the toughest part of the process was the anxiety. What if I cut something wrong, or that’d make it grow all weird? What if my tools weren’t clean enough, and I introduced some kind of disease into the soft, green wood? What if I was doing more harm than good?
When you’re climbing around under a tree and trying not to get cracked in the skull or speared through the eye with falling branches, it’s not the best time to start losing your nerve. I was projecting a lot of my own anxiety on the tree — I’ve been in a position where someone held me down and injured me, insisting it was for my own good, I know exactly how that feels — but maybe this wasn’t it. So, I did the tree-hugger thing.
I put my non-dominant hand on a robust branch and let myself fall into the xylem and phloem, breathing with the slow, wintry pace of the circulating sap. What I felt surprised me. There wasn’t really fear, though there was some pain. If I really had to describe it, it felt like what I imagine the cows in those hoof-trimming videos feel like. (If you haven’t fallen down that rabbit hole yet, you’re welcome.) Tension and relief. The acknowledgement that something is wrong, and fixing it won’t be fun, but the result will be worth it.
I’ll probably have to go back and do some more pruning, but I’ve got the bulk of it done. The problematic parts have been removed, so now everything else is just shaping and ensuring that the branches have enough space around them.
The end result remains to be seen. Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of apples next year!