Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Old Pear Tree

The old pear tree that grows east of our house and in a line with two just-as-old apple trees never meant much to me until I learned a bit of its history, then suddenly it became in my mind a majestic pear tree, a survivor who must be nurtured. The tree is about one hundred years old and for the past forty of those years the tree has been largely ignored. I know because I'm the one who ignored it. Although our average annual precipitation around here is a scant twelve inches there are years when we fall far short of that, yet the pear tree has endured.

In May of 2007 I drove up to the site of the Cheyenne Horticultural Field Station located about ten miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, to attend a walking tour and presentation by Scott Skogerbie, our local Johnny Appleseed. Scott introduced us to the trees, shrubs, and flowers that survived decades of neglect with no artificial watering when the experimental station was abandoned during the dust bowl years. Scott's love of plants was obvious and infectious as he pointed out the brave, tenacious plants who fought off grazing deer, voracious insects, and the drying winds of Wyoming to survive and grow in that environment. The wind tears the clay soil from around the plants and pulverizes it before dropping it back to earth as blow sand as fine as talcum powder and serving the same purpose - to prevent any moisture from penetrating its barrier. When rain finally comes the ground is slippery and sticky but the water doesn't penetrate beneath the top layer to water the roots of the trees below.

After we returned to the field station buildings Scott continued to share his knowledge and passion about hardy Wyoming and Colorado plants. Unwilling to end the stimulating conversation about a subject so interesting to me I invited Scott to join me and two friends for lunch in Cheyenne. Over plates of steaming, authentic Mexican food we talked of the the tendency of some of us transplanted midwesterners to try to grow the oak trees and willows of our youth in this dry, alkaline soil of eastern Colorado. Then talk turned to Scott's obsession with finding an apple tree somewhere in this country planted by Johnny Appleseed so he could clone it. He succeeded in that venture and has since moved on to other fascinating schemes and plans.

Over lunch I told Scott of the two old apple trees and the seckel pear tree on our place and what I knew of them. We bought our three-acre piece of land in 1971 and the trees were mature and healthy then. One day a woman dropped by to see what we were doing with the land and told us she had lived here as a child, that her father, August Gross, planted those three trees shortly after the turn of the century, approx. 1905. One of the apple trees died back to the ground but the other is still producing big crops of yellow-green pie apples about every other year. The seckel pear tree produces every year, a small reddish-skinned pear that is sweet and flavorful if a bit too small for most people's taste.

Scott then told me about Charles Pennock and the nursery he started and operated for years in Bellvue, just about ten miles west of our place. I was so excited to learn about this and researched it immediately upon returning home. Scott said that he was familiar with Pennock's experiments and seckel pears were on the list.

Ever since that time our old pear tree has become more important to me. I water it regularly and have sent a small pear tree that grew as a root sucker to my sister in Oregon. She thinks it might be different from my tree, that the root stock used by Pennock in his grafts is something other than a seckel pear. She's probably right because her little tree has thorns and the old pear tree does not. Maybe I should get some professional advice on how to clone the tree before it's too late.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, AP! I wonder if your pear tree is one of Pennock's trees. You really have to admire the tenacity of any plant that can survive adverse conditions for so long and still bloom beautifully and bear fruit.