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19 October 2004 - 23:59

peach tree

The taller tree has been in our garden for over 15 years. A volunteer that sprouted from some pit discarded or composted in the years before. Clearly a Prunus tree, a fruit tree, by the long, thin, curved leaves. I was guessing a peach tree, but which variety I had no idea. And, of course, I had no idea what the leaves look like for so many other fruit trees in that genus, so it could have been anything. A plum, nectarine, or apricot. Or some sort of a hybrid.

Then, one year, it produced a fruit. An itty-bitty, fuzzy peach of a fruit. Which never got more than an inch long with our short growing season. But at least I knew it was a peach tree.

The tree itself did not fare well with our climate. Extending its branches several feet upwards a year, only to have them all die back and be stiff grey stalks the following spring. For years it never expanded at all, much like the plum that tried so hard on the east side of the garden, until it was swallowed by the blue spruce and finally had to give up and die.

The shorter tree came up inside what used to be my raspberry patch, only a meter or two from the peach tree. Similar leaves, but darker in colour. Another anonymous species, but certainly a Prunus again.

Sometime in August, I noticed it was bearing fruit. Four bald little bulbs hanging on to a few branches. And the peach tree was trying again, too. Over a dozen little fuzz balls scattered about its limbs, some too high to reach after a few successful years of growth exceeding the frostkill.

By September I could identify the fruit on the smaller tree. Nectarines. Hard as rock, but with a tinge of red, and shiny bald skin. The peaches were still there, too, but just as small.

September was warmer than mosty. Some snow, yes, but without the prolonged cold that tends to kill off all the vegetation at once. The mountain ash was absolutely gorgeous, all red and orange, although it is mostly bare today after five days of high winds. And yes, tonight, more wet snow.

The nectarines were clearly nectarines a week or so ago. An academic concern, since there would certainly be no time for them to ripen.

Likewise for the peaches. Probably only half their full size, and equally hard as the nectarines.

But today, as eldest son and I walked the little maskless heeler around the backyard, and I mourned the bareness of the mountain ash, I stopped to give one of the peaches a squeeze.

And it was soft. Not mushy, as if frostbitten, mind you. Just a gentle give to my fingers.

I plucked it. And with hesitency, bit.

One bite consumed a third of the fruit, but there was no doubt. It was ripe. Not as sweet as one normally likes their peaches, but definitely ripe.

Wonder of wonders.

After another two bites I snatched off a second peach, and quickly consumed it as well. Just as juicy, just as not-quite-right sweet. But then this variety never is.

They're whites.

When I was small, I carefully planted the pit from a white peach next to the steel post supporting my mother's clothesline. And it actually grew. Later, when the clothesline was moved to make room for a driveway, I remember her insisting that the tree I planted from seed must be moved as well. It was tall by then, to me at least, and required a huge ball of dirt around its roots to survive. I remember the struggle to get it across the lawn and into its new home.

And survive it did.

I was at college when it came into its own, producing its first bushel of peaches. For years after, except when the blossoms got killed by a late frost, it was a regular source of peaches in my folks' backyard. Over the years the main stem died, I suspect in part from the peach borers we tried to carve out of the trunk every so often. But as the dead limbs were lobbed off, always a branch or two were kept, leaning out like a crazy bonsai, again I assume at my mother's insistence.

Sometime soon after the wife and I moved into this house, we received a whole basket of peaches from my tree. One of its last productive years. And of course you know where the pits went.

And now, more than forty years after that little red-headed boy shoved dirt over his pit with his bare hands, we have a White Peach tree in our garden, bearing a handful of fruit. The snow and cold tonight will almost certainly kill any remaining unripe peaches on what I believe to be a descendant of my tree.

But there's two ripe ones on the kitchen counter, right now, waiting for breakfast.

Another shot from our garden, on that same day.

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