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A Closed Gate

Our hundred-year-old apple tree fell down! It's still alive — but just finally couldn't take the strain of leaning out of the woods into the sun. Year after year, it kept growing at an angle of 45°.

Now the wood at the base has torn apart, and the top of the tree lies on the earth.

If we left it like this, it would survive for some time. On the tips of branches which are now pointing upward, new growth would come fast. Branches not pointing up would stop growing, and might die off — or the tips could grow in a sharp bend, to head skyward. If there were one main vertical branch, it would quickly dominate, as the tree tried to establish a new leader.

Insects will invade the torn gaps at the base of the trunk, and eventually eat enough of the inside to interfere with delivery of nutrients between roots and leaves. That could kill the tree. But in the meantime, the roots may send up new suckers which could become new trunks. And branches now in contact with soil may send down roots in new locations, bypassing the eaten trunk.

The possibilities fascinate me: I'd like to leave the tree as it is, to watch how it develops. But it landed smack in my garden. Maybe I could rethink the design to include a feature which would be decidedly grotesque, in eighteenth-century "Picturesque" style.... However the tree's on top of my main garden path, and covering a lot of plants I don't want to lose; relocating all that's more than I'm prepared to do. A neighbor will take it for firewood.

We didn't see it fall; we didn't hear a sound. After a few days housebound, I walked down the main path — and was brought up short by a tangle of leafy branches blocking the way.

Underneath lies the main entrance to my woods garden, marked by two vertical granite stones on either side. Although there's no gate, the structure still conveys a sense of a gateway, into a different kind of space. Or did. Now a green barricade has closed it off.

The main path — wide, straight and clear — still leads the eye onward: straight into the barrier. As I gaze at the living wall, I feel like a character in a fairy tale, looking for the secret key to let me through.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 19 September 2003

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For more information

Trench Layering — Apple trees can be propagated from branches in soil.