Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Rites

Today it seemed spring finally came to Michigan.  No false sense of security that the worst of winter was over, when knowing by the calendar it just wasn't so.  It is April and though we will, without a doubt, have cold weather again, and typically may even see snow flurries, "Ding dong the wicked winter is dead" refrains in my ears.

A cold morning with frost on the ground erupted into mid 60's degree weather, complete with all day sunshine.  Just about perfect for the long suffering people who thought winter was never leaving.  Its a day when even in our rural area, people were seen outside their homes, raking dead grass in yards, picking up winter's debris, and just soaking up spring sunshine and the chance to be outside without 5 layers of clothing. 

One of our rites of April and the end to winter is to prune the apple trees out back.  We had been pretty lackadaisical about prunning and shaping the four Macintosh apple trees behind our house.  Planted at least 30 years ago, in my first bid to put down roots to the farmhouse we had purchased, I went on a kind of fruit tree planting frenzy, planting not only the apple trees but also peach trees and a cherry tree to start off my orchard.  The peach trees long ago gave up the ghost, as I found early on peach trees in Michigan were not terribly long lived succumbing to a variety of ailments.  The cherry tree also finally died after giving us years of cherries, but it also developed a fruit tree borer that weakened the trunk and finally heavy late snows and ice split the small trunk in half and the tree a few years later died.  But the apple trees survived and while the apples they provided became less and less with passing years, I blamed it on late frosts and Kurt's inconsistent tree spraying arrangement, but a neighbor who stopped over a few years back commented that part of our problem with fruit bearing was the semi dwarf trees were too close together and not pruned down properly.  He urged us to view actual orchards in the spring and see the seeming total mutilation of foliage on these trees in the early spring and to try it with ours over a 3 or 4 year period, pruning more down each year until the trees were a manageable height. 

Four years ago in early April what started out as a light pruning, began our odessy into going for broke with apple tree smackdown.   Small loppers gave way to a larger pair of loppers which gave way to a pruning saw and after the first rather large interior limb was cut away, to the chain saw to cut down large feeders of the truck.  Two days worth of a nice spring weekend were spent trimming.  The trees looked positively awful when done, and we had two large piles of severed limbs to dispose of, but a few weeks later when the blossoms were finished and the trees leafed out, we congratulated ourselves that we had much more manageable trees and they didn't look half bad.  I did say half bad, as we had a way to go to get to being even remotely professional.  The trees produced an abundance of apples, which while not always supermarket quality, and that very definitely can be traced back to Kurt's spraying policy, something that seems to need work, they were nice apples and we felt the time spent was well worth it. 

Every April since then we have pruned the trees, cutting off watersprouts which come back every summer with a veneagance, and eliminating larger limbs to make the trees look like a wind flattened umbrella with limbs and therefore, later apples easily accessible to us, easier to spray and easier to pick in the fall.  It seems for every larger limb we cut off, quadruple the number of watersprouts that are produced at that severance point the next spring.  While these "straight up" sucker limbs are easy to lop off, it is tedious and time consuming and I am amazed at the size they can reach in just one year of growth. 

This year I wondered how much longer the two of us will be able to do all of this.  The maintenance of even our small acreage of fruit trees, yard, and garden becomes greater every year as we age, and though we vow to just take it slower, we are often less inclined to want to do it at all.  I see Mom and how the farm maintenance has become mostly just the house now and her flower garden, as that is all she can manage.  I look with worry at the peeling barn paint and wonder how long it will be before buildings need new roofs.  Home ownership is a never ending process of the upkeep, so the problems don't keep adding up to a very large headache, and farm maintenance is an added larger migraine at times as there is more to maintain.  When even your small farm is a hobby farm and repairs have to be hired out it becomes even more of a chore and less likely to be a pleasure.

But once the trees are pruned and the branches picked up and moved to a large pile in the back which we use as cover for deer and the animals that inhabit our wood lot, we breathe a sigh, that it is not only done, but done well for another year, and something to mark off the calendar as a spring chore accomplished.  Our lives are a series of 'spring chores' we mark as accomplished.  Those chores change as we go through life, through marriage, children, work, loss of work, divorce, illness, and death.  We have to be elastic like the trees we prune so hard, and know that new runners will come from the scars and some will be eliminated next year, but some will find the sun and grow in such a way they will be left.  Our lives change like that and we face the changes, sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes joyously and sometimes with a resolute quiet.  We cry, laugh and take delight in that first truly spring day...

Next up raking road stones from my yard.   Anyone seeking new opportunities for education, grab a rake....

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