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Apple Trees Live One Hundred Years
by Christine Potter

      When we bought our house, the arborist we talked to told us
this fact: apple trees go for a century. The one right in front of
our place, he said, was about that old. It was easy to believe him;
the tree had a huge hole in it, quite rotten, where a branch had
gone south probably decades ago. Someone had filled the hole
with cement once, but the cement had long since dropped back
into the hollow inside the tree.

      In fact, the tree looked like a person twisting into an awkward
position to get something off a high shelf, one-handed, slightly
off-balance. It still looks that way, more or less. It dropped
another, smaller branch this summer. And now it's even emptier
inside. Squirrels can go in at the bottom, down by the roots, and
emerge from the trunk halfway up the tree.

      We keep birdfeeders hanging on it--and the grass under the
tree is really green because of that. The birds sit and eat there,
and deposit what they deposit and the grass grows lush in the
tree's shade. I imagine the tree appreciates the birds' leavings,

      Somehow, it stays alive. People keep telling us that abundant
blooms and big apple harvests mean it's about to die and is
frantically trying to reproduce. But it blooms like crazy every
spring, and every fall there are plenty of apples. Problem is that
they are usually tiny and hard and green--good only for nine-
year-old boys to hoard in their red wagons for apple-chucking
wars. And I don't think nine-year-old boys do that anymore,
although I can't tell you that for sure. In our neck of the woods,
there aren't any nine-year-old boys I could point to and prove
my point. They're probably all inside, playing X-box or Wii or

      Maybe the tree will die this year. I hope not, but I have a
reason for thinking that it might besides its general decrep-
itude. Here's the reason: this year, the apples aren't tiny.
They're normal apple sized--not enormous, the bigger ones
being maybe the size of my fist if I could get my fist to be as
round as an apple. And this year, they're ripening a bit before
they fall from the tree. My husband picked a non-rotten, non-
bee-invaded one off the ground the other day and took a bite.

      "This actually tastes pretty good," he said. I took a very cautious
nibble. He was right. It was sort of Granny-Smith-ish in flavor, but
a little dry. Not bad. A cooking apple, for sure, not an eating apple.
And God knows what variety. The tree's so old that it could be
something exotic and wonderful, I imagine. I'd like it if that were
the case. In fact, please, God, don't let our tree just be bearing
stunted Macs or something...

      This morning, I went out and bought a conical sieve, and Ken
knocked a bunch of the riper apples off the branches with the
swimming pool rake. I picked up a bunch more apples that had
fallen overnight and weren't yucky yet. And I took them inside and
washed them off and cut them up for applesauce.

      My grandmother used to make applesauce, so I proceeded as if
she was telling me what to do: leave the skins on, let the sieve take
care of the cores and seeds. Sweeten when you're done sieving the
cooked apples (they simmer in water to cover for about twenty-five
minutes). I pulled out Joy of Cooking, and they had a much fancier
recipe with mace and cinnamon and ginger, and they said to
simmer the fruit in apple cider. But I didn't want to use apple cider
made from someone else's tree. I was making a tribute to the
miraculous longevity of MY tree.

      So like I said, I used water. And after I'd drained and sieved the
apples, I sweetened the sauce with pure grade B maple syrup, which
is cheaper and tastier than grade A (I got a big bottle of the stuff at
a Christmas Tree store near me, of all the absurd places. Health
foody shops have it more frequently). I grated a little nutmeg and
put in a shake of cinnamon and a pinch of ginger. Fancy enough.

    It was very good applesauce, and I would have thought so
probably even if it weren't very good. I'm figuring, looking at what's
left on the tree, that I've got several gallons if I want it. And I do. I
want to cook down those apples into sauce and put it in the freezer
and have it all winter.

    My ancient tree that never before gave me edible apples has
suddenly given me a beautiful crop of tasty, antique-looking fruit.
Maybe this will be its last crop. And like the other women who have
lived in this old house, I stood in the kitchen and made applesauce
today. I thought about how there could have been 1900 applesauce
from my tree, and 1940 applesauce. I thought about all the sweet-
smelling apples cooking on the stove. Maybe back in the day, they
weren't so bumpy and irregular--or maybe whoever lived here had
the patience to peel them anyway, and made pie or sauteed apples
or dumplings.

      So these words are in honor of my geriatric apple tree, whom (and
it IS a "who", not a "which") I honor this fall in its ancient glory and
decay. If I could walk outside and thank it, and if it could
understand me, I would.


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