The package said his new shears with the stainless steel blades could cut a branch three‑quarters of an inch in diameter. He found one about that large and cut it cleanly at the trunk. Soon twigs and suckers puddled under the tree as he created a bowl shape that sun and insect spray could fall into.
He stepped into the tree from the ladder, reaching with the lopping shears for a small limb that was growing at a bad angle. His leg wobbled with the elastic sway of his foothold. He dropped the loppers in clutching to steady himself, then had to climb down after them. He moved the ladder in closer.
So many years he’d pruned this apple tree. It bore the scars of major surgery as well as the nodules of removal of countless suckers that always grew back with undiminished enthusiasm. In the apple’s biennial cycle, he could expect a bumper crop this year.
He felt a pact with the tree he had never broken: When he fertilized, pruned, and sprayed, the tree gave huge, burgundy red apples. These he plucked and placed bruiselessly in boxes, his offering of love to friends and family.
Upon the ladder again, he reached for the highest shoots, cutting them just above a bud that would sprout in the right direction, the judgment made without hesitation through years of practice.
One shoot he had to lean for escaped his first grab. He leaned farther and felt himself overset, losing his balance, the ladder tipping. He somehow steadied himself on a limb, trembling. That had been close. He knew that he would be sore and limping from wrenched muscles tomorrow.
He had moved the ladder in as close to the trunk as it would go. He looked at the limbs, trying to find a safe path to the upstarts and saw only danger. If he fell and broke something . . . . Better safe than sorry, he told himself, his muscles twitching as he climbed down again. After all, when the tree was leaved out, it would look okay. Yet, he hated to leave those unpruned shoots like an unmowed swath in a hayfield—a broken promise.
He put the ladder, loppers, gloves and shears away in the shed as usual, but this year he didn’t stand back and admire his work. He told himself that no one would notice, but the failure continued to bother him. Two possibilities occurred to him: hire a young person to prune or have the whole tree cut down. Either course seemed a betrayal, somehow.
Then he remembered he had bought a tool at the gardening supply. He found it in the shed and poked the new, pole-mounted lopper towards the high branches he hadn’t been able to reach. He pulled the rope that closed the blade. He grinned at the old tree as the shoot tumbled to the ground, waving the pole in salute to his old friend.