Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • Our house on the island is built over an older, cut-granite and field stone foundation. When we started clearing the land there were small trees growing out of the cellar hole. The last wall of the old house leaned back, caught in its fall by a branch. The old pasture and dooryard were dark and silent with 60 foot spruce trees.

    Not much was left of the old place. A line of mossed over chimney bricks, a glitter of window glass, odd bits of pottery, a scatter of square cut nails. Not much to show for generations of hard scrabble island living. But the pair of apple trees out front between the foundation and the Town Road still stood strong. They connected old and new.

    One of them died almost as soon as we cleared the land around the house. The shock of exposure was too much.

    The other hung on. It had a double trunk like a fragment of lichen crusted DNA. Walking home up the road, its curves were the first sight of home. On Carly’s second birthday I hung a swing on a thick branch.

    The first winter we left the island the last tree gave in to gravity and split. In those years away from the island many of our gardens and work vanished, swallowed up by a rising tide of time and grass.

    In time, we returned to the island, reclaimed gardens and planted two apple trees between the house and the road.

    I dug great pits in the hard rock and gravel. We filled them with soil dug from the barn floor, hauled loads of duff from the forest and loads of seaweed from the shore. Let the mix compost and settle. Added a rich tonic of soil amendments; greensand, azomite, bonemeal, and more. Poured over catalogues of trees and wondered at the names:

    Ashmead’s Kernel
    Duchess of Oldenburg
    Esopus Spitzenburg
    Cox’s Orange Pippin

    Hard to choose just two.

    We planted the bare-rooted trees that spring with high hopes.

    Our high hopes have been tried over the years. Between driving winds and deer and mice and boring grubs the trees have had a lot to contend with. As soon as the trees got to a comfortable height and branched out the deer discovered them. On an island rife with brambles and blueberry and birch and wild apples, the deer found our two trees with uncanny precision and almost munched them to the ground. We tried all manner of deer inhibitors before hauling out fence posts and fencing. The tree that got above the browse height first was hit by boring grubs that tunneled under the bark. I went after the grubs with bits of wire and wrapped the trunks in screen. The borers went under the screen. I painted the trunks with a mix of latex paint and plaster-of-Paris. I had to stop painting somewhere. The borers started where I stopped. The fence sagged around the other tree and from the evidence; the deer stood on the lower branches and stripped everything else. It has been a hard go for the apple trees.

    This year there were still blossoms on them when we arrived. Young apples lined the branches. From a distance things looked good. Yesterday, I unhooked the section of fence around one for an inspection. Despite a thick wrapping, the borers were back. In one we pulled out more than 20 white grubs with heavy munching jaws. After cutting back to the healthy productive inner bark very little was left.

    GG stopped by to take a look last night. Look like you’ll get some apples Ben, he said.

    Neither of us mentioned the radical apple surgery.

    Out back there are 13 pits dug and filled with soil, composted hay, loads of seaweed and loads of forest duff. Each mulched wide with the hay we scythe. A line of transplanted spruce marks a windbreak. There are fence posts and fencing to order and haul out. We’re looking at the tree catalogue. Marveling at the names. We’ve got the hard won borer experience.

    In the spring Carly and Claire will bring out the bare root trees with high hopes.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.