"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

An ode to an apricot tree

By on February 26, 2019 in Uncategorized with 1 Comment
Lief Carlsen is grateful for the hardy and fruitful apricot tree that grows right below his home.

By Lief Carlsen

Call me sentimental. Call me a tree hugger. 

I prefer to see my affinity for a certain little tree on the hillside in front of my house as something of a morality tale. 

I have always been a sucker for fidelity. To my way of thinking, no human emotion rates above loyalty. Movie scenes that depict a character keeping the faith despite time and tribulation are sure to bring tears to my eyes. 

And while I am perfectly aware that trees, lacking central nervous systems, are unlikely to share our emotions, I can’t help but respond to even the appearance of fidelity.

My relationship with this tree began 36 years ago. 

That summer I was enchanted by the idea of living off the land. I was finishing off my log cabin in the woods — a cabin whose only power source was two solar panels. We heated with wood from our land. We had two goats that supplied milk for our family. We had a small hen house for fresh eggs. We had a garden. 

To round out my stab at self-sufficiency, I planted a small orchard that included an apple tree, a pear tree, a cherry tree, a nectarine tree and an apricot tree.

This little experiment with self-sufficiency lasted a few years. It worked well enough as far as it went but living a third-world lifestyle appealed more to me than to my wife. 

Cash was in short supply at our enclave on the hill so we followed the money — to a town where I could get a steady job. 

We kept the cabin in the woods. For the next 20 years we came back for brief stays once or twice a year. 

It saddened me on these visits to see the weeds growing in my former garden plot. A squirrel moved into the goat barn. A belligerent grouse took up residence near the cabin and attacked us when we trespassed on “his” property. 

And my little orchard? Without irrigation, one by one, the fruit trees died — except the apricot tree. 

Not that it thrived. “Tenaciously clung to life” would be a more accurate description. 

Summers in Chelan are unmercifully hot and dry and the little apricot tree was on a south-facing slope to make matters worse. 

To make matters “worser,” deer pruned away many of the tree’s delicate leaves by summer’s end. 

Every year when I visited the cabin, I expected to find the tree had finally surrendered to the inevitable but it stubbornly refused to do so. 

My feeling regarding the tree evolved from dispassionate observation to something akin to guilt. Did I not owe this plucky little tree a better life?

We moved back to the cabin in 2004. Like a repentant absentee father I was determined to atone for my shameful treatment of the apricot tree. 

All through the hot months of that first year I lugged five-gallon jugs of water down the hill to the tree. The aching arms and breathlessness that these water deliveries entailed? Penance, maybe you would call it.

The tree, in return, seemed to appreciate my attention. It grew more in the next few years than it had in the preceding 20. It produced fruit. The first year just a handful but the next year a basketful. And what fruit! Many varieties of apricot are rather bland but this tree produced large, juicy, sweet fruit with a beautiful smooth orange skin.

When the tree started producing more fruit than I could eat fresh, I sun-dried the rest. When yellow jackets and chipmunks pilfered my drying racks, I screened them in. When a bear came skulking around, I moved the racks to an un-scaleable porch.

Each year since our return the tree has produced a bigger crop. 

A few years ago my solar drying racks overflowed so I bought some electric fruit dryers to supplement. This year I found a good deal on some larger electric dryers so I bought two more. 

Such is my respect for my apricot tree that I cannot bear to allow any of the “fruit of its labor” to be wasted.

To keep up with this bounty of fruit I have had to get creative. My diet now includes liberal supplements of dried apricots, apricot pies, apricot shakes, apricot trail mix, apricot snacks.

I have been so impressed with this tree that I have begun proselytizing to whomever will listen.

Like all fruit, or course, apricots are part of a healthy diet. 

But there is so much more to be said for them. As this tree has so obviously demonstrated, apricot trees are hardy. They also seem to be immune to insect and microorganism infestations — at least mine is. Other than an occasional bird peck, my fruit has always been unblemished. And pretty. To borrow a poet’s line:

I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as an apricot tree

I love the bright green color of the leaves in summer, especially when they contrast with the ripened orange fruit. Each spring the tree puts on a spectacular show with thousands of white blossoms. 

I am also amazed at how this tree has managed to remain petite despite it’s prolific crop of fruit. 

In its early years I may have been shamelessly inattentive but I’ve done my best to make up for that. It’s as if this tree and I, like an old married couple, now have a healthy respect for each other. 

And adding additional apricot trees to my modest orchard? I wouldn’t think of it. That would be unfaithful. 

That would be… polygamy? And I’m just too loyal for that.

Lief Carlsen lives with his wife, Mary, and his apricot tree in Union Valley near Lake Chelan.

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  1. Rachel Whitely says:

    Beautiful picture and a lovely story.

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