Peachy-keen No More

THE REAL DIRT

August 08, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

The last leaf just fell off my peach tree. So what? Trees lose their foliage every year. The problem is, my peach tree lost its leaves in summer. Most trees shed in autumn; mine is bare in August.

I'd like to think my peach tree was only trying to beat the fall rush. But I fear it's more than that. The leaves are gone; ditto the fruit, which shriveled and fell off several weeks ago. The produce resembled prunes more than peaches.

Yes, my tree wants to tell me something.

It's dead.

I am certain of this. The autopsy bears me out. My fingernail scratches the bark for signs of life. A live tree scratches green. Dead ones are brown. This tree has definitely kicked the bucket, a poor choice of words, given the cause of death.

My tree drowned.

I feared as much last spring, when a late blizzard dumped more than a foot of snow hereabout. A snowplow then banked the white stuff 8 feet high at a spot of high ground just above the tree, whose roots bore the brunt of the meltdown. For more than a week, the base of the tree was under water.

Few trees outside the Everglades can cope with such flooding, and mine was a peach, not a cypress.

When the water finally subsided, I checked the tree for damage. It looked fine. The trouble with trees is, they don't tell you they're drowning. They don't wave their branches or make glub-glub noises. Trees suffer in silence until it's too late. Not that I could have done anything to help. Trees can't catch life preservers, and I am not trained in mouth-to-bark resuscitation.

The tree appeared to rebound. For a while, everything looked OK. You might even say things were peachy. The tree, a popular variety called Red Haven, grew normal leaves and set normal fruit. I marveled at its determination. The tree was covered with more than a thousand wannabe peaches until I thinned the tiny fruits to 6 inches apart, a tedious but necessary task to ensure a quality harvest.

The peaches doubled in size, then doubled again. Every time I walked past the 6-year-old tree, I got goose bumps imagining my first major harvest. Last year's crop of 17 peaches was the sweetest ever. Alas, half of them disappeared between the yard and the kitchen, before I could share them with the family.

This year's crop would be the talk of the neighborhood. It would also make up for some of the razzing I've taken because of our bad luck with trees this summer.

First, a flowering pear keeled over in a heavy wind. Then another storm claimed a large branch of a 40-foot silver maple. The branch, 9 inches in diameter, crashed onto the clothesline moments after my wife finished hanging the laundry.

Meg escaped, but my underwear did not.

It hasn't been a great year for the family trees.

We have other fruit trees, but the peach was always my favorite. How much did I love that tree?

* I never struck it with the lawn mower.

* The cats were forbidden to climb it.

* It's the one tree that never served as home plate in a Wiffle ball game.

I vowed to record this year's harvest for posterity. Giddy with anticipation, I bought six half-bushel baskets and a roll of film. And several dozen canning jars, to preserve the fruits of my labor.

I also looked forward to the day when I could reach out the bedroom window and pick breakfast. That's why I planted the peach tree in a sunny, if low-lying spot in the side yard.

What a bonehead move that was.

I knew something was awry by the Fourth of July, when the fruit began to wither and die. The leaves followed suit. I felt like trying to glue them back onto the branches, as if that would save the tree. Instead, I just watched a good friend drown.

The irony is that the ground was bone-dry at the time.

I watched the last leaf spiral downward from the bedroom window. The tree had grown to within two feet of my grasp when it died.

Maybe it had been reaching out for help.

I try not to think about that.

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