The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current, April 13, 2018, WEEKEND EDITION, Page 1C, Image 17

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Erick Bengel | Features Editor
Ron Baldwin photos
Now well-pruned, this 75-plus-year-old tree on Ron Baldwin’s property will
continue to produce apples for a long time.
When dried, apple prunings are valued for barbecuing and smoking.
Yes, you will get hurt trimming your trees,
but you may also connect with your neighbors
For The Daily Astorian
hen my wife and I bought our home
in Chinook across from the old Chi-
nook school, it had three fruit trees,
only one of which I decided to keep, an over-
grown apple tree with OK apples but defi-
nitely in need of reshaping. I pruned it back
with a vengeance.
Then I left it unpruned for a few years, and
this spring it was time to grab the saw, shears
and ladder.
The tree is common of many 75-plus-year-
old apple trees in the Colum-
bia-Pacific region. No one
really knows what variety
they are, but each tree pro-
duces a unique apple. Some
produce few apples, others
produce many. Most have
gone through many prunings
by owners of varying prun-
ing skill levels.
The last week in March is
a little late for pruning but not unreasonably
so. I always say the best time to prune is when
the shears are in your hand.
Once the decision was made and the tools
were sharpened, I waited for the right day and
waded right into a severe pruning job on this
old girl. Several years of water sprouts hit the
ground first, then I removed all the dead wood
and every branch that’s growing toward the
center of the tree.
We now have a situation where you want
to climb all over this tree and cut some of
its parts off. The tree has altogether different
ideas and will do everything it can to send you
to the hospital.
You soon discover that you can’t really
get to some of the work without actually
climbing the tree. That green moss cover-
ing the branches is there specifically to send
you sprawling to the ground, the little spikes
on the branches are there to tear your shirt
and pants, and the water sprouts are there to
remove your hat and scrape your ears off. Just
avoiding falling and smashing your bones is a
In the middle of this multi-day process
the inevitable storm appears and drives you
back into the house. I left the ladder under the
tree and the wind blew it over. This created a
storm of concern for my welfare as no fewer
than five neighbors called to ask if I was OK.
They all feared that I had fallen and broken
something. Each call included a conversation
about all manner of things.
At the post office: “See you took on that
At the supermarket: “Wow! You really
took some out of that apple tree.”
At a coffee shop: “Hope you’ve got your
insurance payed up.”
It was like a regular parade of neighbors
stopping by, in their cars and on foot, to chat
while I was actually pruning, including sev-
eral who said they had attended school across
the street.
“We used to steal apples off your tree,”
they said.
Of course, it wasn’t my tree then. The old
house may have hosted 10 or more families
in its 128 years, and many owners could have
been victims of this wild caper. The niece
of one longtime resident said her aunt knew
about the apple stealing, and that she delighted
in watching it all happening.
After all the sawing and shearing, you look
down and realize: Holy smokes! What am I
going to do with all that brush laying on the
Now comes the real work. Now you have
to make choices: (1) Cut the prunings into
pieces to use on the barbecue in the fall; (2)
cut the prunings into pieces, move them to the
burn pile and cover until they finally dry out
enough to burn; or (3) cut the prunings into
pieces and let one of the home-smoker types
that drive by take the bulk of the wood, and
you keep a smaller pile to burn.
Whatever choice you make, realize that
there are two commonalities with a project
like this.
One: You will hurt, either from a face lash-
ing from an uncooperative branch, leg and
arm lacerations from climbing the tree, or just
the endless bending over to cut up and dispose
of the brush.
Two: It will take you at least three times
your initial estimate of the total time involved.
All the work and pain finally paid off, as
the former grandeur of the tree’s early shape
began to appear.
As I looked over the project with some
pride, I realized that I’d not only brought back
a community icon, but I had connected per-
sonally with my neighbors more than I had in
Modern life can give you a feeling of being
isolated and alone in the world, but if you
want to get connected with your neighbors, all
you have to do is take those pruning tools out
to a tree, or plant a new lawn, or build a new
You’ll soon have plenty of conversation to
fill your day.
Ron Baldwin is a musician, photographer
and writer living in Chinook, Wash.