Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mercy killing: a swift and calculating account

Most stories start at the beginning. This one begins at the end.
My husband and I cut down an apple tree this morning.

Not just any old fruit tree lost somewhere in the middle of a massive orchard. It was once a Harvest Apple seedling, the second of three varieties of apple trees Brian set in the ground on our small patch of land more than 30 years ago.

I remember when Brian planted it right off the corner of the sundeck. As he scooped the last shovel of soil, he gently tapped his feet around its young, scrawny trunk and said, “Someday, I’ll be able to pick apples from the deck.” And, he did.

It grew hardily, weathering the seasons, standing against any number of summer storms and bearing much fruit, without conveying any hint of tiredness.

That was until last Sunday evening, when a strong suspended wind shear passed through, wiping out its main stalwart shoot. The storm left only two thick branches, one facing north, and the other south, to fend for themselves.

You could call it a mercy killing of sorts. The old tree did not bear fruit this season and would not have survived a storm headed our way. We decided to take it down gently and with whatever dignity we could provide.

Don’t be fooled by this swift and calculating account. Even though in the early morning hours before work, I appeared to be uncommonly detached. Taking turns hand-sawing with Brian, I experienced a nagging loss. It was a deep down sense I couldn’t penetrate amid the cutting and hauling of branches.

It only took us a half-hour and, now, all but the lower part of the trunk is gone.

Resting my hand on the scrappy edges of what’s left, I am grievously apologetic for my bad attitude toward it.

In early summer, I griped over having to compete with squirrels for the first fruits. In mid-summer, I complained about all the fallen apples attracting hornets. When autumn came around, I surely did my share of whining over having to rake all of those darn leaves.

Now that the tree is gone, my memories have turned satiny and supple.
As our family grew, the tree grew with us. The kids climbed it and so did our Dachshund, Poe.

It shaded our flowers, provided a safe home for a variety of birds and protected us from hail and hard-driving south winds. It was an abundant food source for squirrels, an irresistible attraction for bees and an enchanted landing for snowflakes.

For years, it supplied us with enough fruit to make delicious apple pies, mouthwatering apple crisps, tantalizing apple bread and smooth apple sauce.
This tree stood by as we went to the hospital for the births of our two sons and looked upon us as we returned with newborns bundled in our arms.

It greeted newly adopted puppies, foreign guests and long-lost friends. It watched us rescue baby bunnies, birds and ducklings. It heard my silent restless dreaming as I sat out late into the evening gazing at a starry sky.
Its absence has left a big gap in the yard and a huge lump in my throat.

My nervous chatter, “It’s a good thing we took care of it now,” is really a disguise for my grief. My edgy command for Brian, “Do not plant another tree there, and I mean it,” is just a cover for my sorrow. My dismissive comment, “Well, now there’s more sun in the yard,” is only an excuse for my regret.

I realize now how insolubly linked my life was to the old tree. I regret not having shown it my deep-seated appreciation for all it quietly and unselfishly offered.

When it died, a part of me went, too.

2011 © Copyright Paula Damon. A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamonpaula@gmail, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

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