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Learning lessons from a tree

There is an apple tree that stands on the back of my property that has a story behind it. I wasn’t here for the tale, but my husband remembered it well and related it to me.

When the tree — don’t know what kind — was just a young one, a strong summer storm with high winds blew through and left it lying on the ground. It was still a healthy one, bearing apples each year, and my husband’s uncle, Irvin Phares, was determined to save it. He wrapped and tightly tied a piece of rope around the tree’s center, hooked the rope to the bumper of his old Chevy truck, and pulled the tree back into an upright position. It stood on its own. He shoveled some dirt around the trunk and over the exposed roots and left it to Mother Nature. She took good care then and over the years, and the tree still stands.

Now, all these years later, it is about 20″ or so in diameter, not all that tall, and mostly looks the worse for wear. It produces apples every year, but they are no prize, for sure. They do, however, provide a stop for the deer passing through. They are not too choosy about their fruit after all.

Having lived on our property for 35 years now, I have seen changes with the old tree. We have cut several old, dead branches from it. Likewise, we have fought a poison ivy vine that has plagued that tree for years. Spraying didn’t work. The vine was as determined as the tree to survive. In the end, we cut away an ivy vine that was, unbelievably, 2″ in diameter! And, I swear, I heard that tree breathe a sigh of relief.

For probably the past 8 or 9 years, a mother black bird has returned to a nest she built deep inside the old tree. After all these years, the tree has begun to rot away in the middle. I watch mama bird fly to and fro, bringing food to her little ones until they leave the nest each summer. And she always returns. Amazes me.

On the West side of the tree, away from the black bird’s opening, our friendly neighborhood woodpecker has drilled a perfect, smooth hole about 5 feet up. I have never seen him there, but he surely did a perfect carpenter’s job on that hole.

After many summers of mowing, I have learned exactly where the tree’s roots are protruding above the ground. They are like concrete and would stop the mower dead if I hit one just right. I twist and maneuver around and think about way back then when Irv stomped and padded those roots back into the ground to save this tree. It worked.

This year, as I mowed around the tree, a fairly new limb had sprouted. Eventually, it hung down and whacked me in the head each week. I threatened to cut it off until I noticed bloom and, later, absolutely perfect applies hanging—the only apples on the tree. By the first of this month, there were about a dozen good-sized apples that I eagerly picked. Not a blemish on any one of them. They need to ripen a little, and then I will enjoy a home-grown apple or two every day.

I stood on the back porch today, looking back over the property at that old tree. She has lots of green leaves this year, and that one limb is still hanging down, just not as far since I picked the product. I thought about all that she has been through. Almost not making it in the beginning, limbs dying that just couldn’t seem to survive, a poison ivy vine trying to suck the life out of her, providing a dry home for God’s flying creatures, keeping those roots solidly in the ground, producing perfect apples, finally. Oh, so many years of living.

Made me think about my own life. Ups, downs, and in-betweens. Lasting longer that I ever expected. Doing my best to still produce. Providing help to someone who needed it. Taking the sour with the sweet. Blessed beyond anything I ever expected. Thankful beyond belief. Oh, so many years of living, the apple tree and me.

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