The Old Apple Tree
text and photographs by John Ames
This photograph is of an old apple tree growing on the edge of my brother’s field near Rockport Harbor. A week or so ago, one of its main branches broke in an ice storm and now lies twisted, touching the ground. My brother’s wife will probably get him to cut the tree down this summer as there isn’t much left of it anymore.
The old apple tree doesn’t mind being cut down now. It’s had a long life and even in the day when there was a commercial orchard on the land, the apples it gave the farmer to sell weren’t what made it happy. Making money was fine but what the tree really liked were the times when all the busy chores were done and it stood alone by the edge of the water in the warm sun and listened to the waves rustle the little stones that covered the beach below it.
The tree’s place in the orchard, when there had been one, was at the very bottom of the row nearest the sea and in the fall and spring when the migrating geese were passing through, a flock of them would sometimes cluster nearby burbling softly to each other as they ate the grass under its branches. When the birds had finished eating, they would settle down in the soft grass and sleep with their heads under a wing. The guard birds stayed awake of course and if all was quiet and no foxes or people were near, they would tell the tree stories of flying all night above storm clouds in the dull silver light of a crescent moon.
In the mid 1800s the farm had been sold to a rich man from Philadelphia as a summer vacation place, then sold again to someone else and finally cut into smaller pieces for yet more summer houses. The tree no longer was expected to make money for anyone and since it wasn’t commercially valuable, it wasn’t fertilized or pruned or sprayed to keep the worms from digging into its wood or fruit. That was OK because the geese still passed through and told stories of their travels and children of the summer people would occasionally come by to try to climb it or even bite into the small wormy bitter apples it still produced.
I’ve known this tree since I first came to Maine in the early 1950s. I was one of those children of summer and I will miss it.