We ended up in the small town of Dixon, California in the Sacramento Valley on the north end of the state. Notable to me now as a very HOT place to live. High heat half the year, rainy the other half. Our new home came equipped with central air conditioning, lots of spanish tile, stucco and fruit trees. FRUIT TREES. I was in heaven! We had grapefruit, nectarine, apple, and plum trees in the back yard, along with an arbor covered in grape vines. In the front was an enormous old apricot tree, as tall as our two-story house. The climate was perfect for stone fruit and I had big plans for those apricots! I envisioned my future in a happy peachy orange haze.
The first summer we lived there, I realized I was in over my head. The grapefruit was delicious, but we had way too many to consume on our own. I had no idea what to do with the surplus! The nectarine tree bore some gorgeous fruit, but the branches bent and snapped under the weight of them. And that apricot tree? It covered our cars and driveway in apricot goo from the overripe apricot bombs that dropped and exploded before sundrying into an impossible sticky mess everywhere. I didn't acquire canning as a skill until more recently in my life, so this fruit bounty was largely wasted on us and became a bit of a nightmare.
One Friday evening, just home from work, I heard a knock on the door. I opened it to find an older mexican gentleman who inquired, of all things, about our trees. He asked if I could come outside so that he could show me something. I was curious, and followed him out to the big old apricot tree, which he proceeded to tell me was "sick". He went on to explain how "he" (meaning the tree), was in desperate need of pruning and would not survive unless drastic action was taken. He showed me how the branches had become intertwined from lack of maintenance, how the sunlight was not flowing correctly and how the overall shape of the tree was poor. He pointed out the signs of distress, where some of the branches were dying and where others were trying to compensate. I remember feeling horrified and defensive because I had inherited the tree in that condition and tried to tell him that it wasn't my fault. He listened to me, before gently insisting that "he" (the tree) needed our help. At which point, I wondered, even though what he said sounded reasonable, could he just be a salesman trying to sell me something?
As a young couple with a rather large house payment (after all this is California we're talking about), we were not in a position to hire on "staff" to help us with our landscaping. A fact that I proceeded to share with my new tree friend. He smiled at me, shook his head and in his softspoken accent, asked if he could come back tomorrow. I agreed, although I didn't know what I was agreeing to, mostly because I figured my husband would think I'd made up the whole story, if he didn't see it for himself.
Saturday came and we were greeted with another knock on the door. My tree friend was back with a saw and a ladder, asking if it was ok to work on the tree? I shrugged and nodded. At this point I didn't want to stand in the way of the tree that had apparently sent out an S.O.S., calling this man to come over and save "him" from the ignorant homeowner that would be its demise. I watched him set up the ladder, then climb up, carefully eyeing each branch, before cutting here and there, all the while explaining to me what he was looking for. It was a huge job, taking him half the day, but he toiled away until a large pile of branches had accumulated underneath. When he was done, he had all the branches all neatly stacked and inquired if we had any other trees? I hesitated, because I thought, oh boy, this is going to cost us a fortune, but curiousity again won me over, so I escorted him to the back yard where the rest of our trees were kept hostage.
He walked from tree to tree, touching the leaves, looking carefully, before finally notifying me that he would be back the next day to shred the branches that he had trimmed from the apricot tree. Clearly, I was no longer in charge of this situation, so I nodded again (apparently I had lost the ability to form actual words) and thanked him. He did return, as promised, and cleaned up the whole mess, taking it with him. The tree looked amazing, and I stood for a moment admiring his work before the thought occurred to me...I had not paid him a cent!
A week later he returned with his ladder and saw, asking if he could prune the trees in back. This time I did not hesitate, working alongside him, asking questions and listening as he told me what each tree "wanted". He worked diligently until every tree had been pruned to his satisfaction. When he was done, I offered him a small sum that I had tucked away, which he accepted with a kind smile. I was shamed by his generosity, as the money was not nearly enough for the work he had performed. But he was extremely gracious and seemed happy that the trees had been tended to.
Before he left, I thanked him profusely, as I had learned so much in the short time I had spent with him. I was grateful that he had chanced upon our home. He smiled and said he'd be back the next year.
He did return the next year to tweak the trees, showing me how to keep them maintained for optimum health. He accepted no money this time. He simply told me to listen and the trees would tell me what they needed. I promised to be a better caretaker of the trees and we shook hands on it.
I never saw that old gentleman again. I don't know where he came from or why, but I've always felt blessed that our paths crossed. As life has taken me different directions, whenever I have found myself in the company of trees, I've tried to be a better guardian. I look and listen, as he taught me to do, prune here and there, letting the sun flow through, thinking back to that time when a young girl first heard the trees talking.
A couple years ago I planted several fruit trees here on our farm. I'm hopeful that if we don't experience another year of rogue frost, we will enjoy a colorful and tasty bounty of fabulous fresh fruit this summer. Apples, plums, peaches, cherries...and oh yes, apricots. :)
Share your tree care tips here or at our FB home, www.facebook.com/thepocketfarmer.
Hope to see you there! :)