Meditation on a Neighbor Pruning a Crabapple Tree on a Cold October Morning

David Rock


WHICH BRINGS US TO that little tree in Macbeth’s yard, drooping lush in winter prequel, in abject repose.  No portent here, just the fear the season brings around Thanksgiving-time because it’s colder now, and we could run out of so much in our abundance.  Here comes Macbeth with a pruning tool.  See how the little tree has it coming.  A fine image: Chad Macbeth working his way around, or, well, sort of . . .   How does he know what to maim?  Such a nice guy, articulate and thoughtful like an author I once met who said—and now I believe it’s true: “For me, writing is more taking away than putting things in.”

Now he’s joined by a little blonde girl, about seven, in a pink coat with white polka-dots and purple pants.  She’s gathering the severed limbs.  She has something to do with the anguished apples.  Now there’s a teen-aged kid and another young boy, about five.  And who is intended for that step-stool?  It could almost be Isaac’s altar, and by that I mean, you know: “The Lord will provide.”  The whole tree trembles under the onslaught.

And now Macbeth has a saw.  How does he know what to eliminate?  How does anyone ever know?  If he were me he’d just make it up on the fly.  He looks; he decides.  But his heart is not really in it.  I’ll see Macbeth in church tomorrow, tactfully turn myself in as a spy.  I’ll ask: Why now?  The Allens, before you bought the house, never did what you have just done. And how do you know so much about the needs of another life form?  How much it must hurt, to love all those children.

I stand up for a moment and from a different angle I can see a wheelbarrow I didn’t even know existed.  So much depends, indeed.  There’s a whole pile of branches next to it.  And I will never shed a tear for that tree.  As for me, I wouldn’t have planted it in the first place.  If you don’t actually eat crabapples—and nobody does—nobody starves in that way . . .

Shouldn’t a tree be tall and majestic, large enough to be dangerous someday in a future we can already see looming as the days grow shorter?  A tree to be reckoned with must convey an idea of consequences, of what wind and lightning can do.  I recall an article (now, as the sun has almost come through) about a girl at Penn State who was killed between classes by a branch that fell from an elm tree.  I walked that same path many times before and after the incident.  And I don’t go around saying things are looking up.  Now I’m reminded of an unknown woman at a park in Boise who was stunned in a similar fashion on the edge of our Rock family reunion.  One of us (I forget who) went over to check on her, she being not of the tribe and therefore a suitable test-case for kindness.

The job is done.  Life goes on.  The little polka-dot girl is playing on a scooter.  By my smartphone it’s two degrees above freezing, but she doesn’t mind the cold.  The crabapple tree looks about the same as it did before, as far as I can tell, but I’m no expert.  And so it is that sometimes people cut limbs to improve a tree (let’s hope it works!) and sometimes branches just fall when they become too weak to withstand.  Either way, thank you, Lord, for good neighbors and ornamental trees to help qualify my flourishing apprehension of Providence.

Return to Fall 2018 Volume 10.1


Rock photo


DAVID ROCK has work appearing in The Carolina Quarterly, The Laurel Review, The Bitter Oleander, The Chattahoochee Review, Image, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals. An Idaho native, he teaches Spanish and international studies at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg.