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Paul Turner: Backyard apple tree proves a formidable foe as fall nears

Columnist Paul Turner wonders, are the beautiful blossoms of an apple tree in spring worth the work of the fall, when the fruit litters the backyard? (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Columnist Paul Turner wonders, are the beautiful blossoms of an apple tree in spring worth the work of the fall, when the fruit litters the backyard? (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Our backyard apple tree is messing with my mind.

Not long after this season’s apples started thudding to the ground in muffled surrender, I positioned our green waste barrel directly beneath the old tree and waited. Like a patient fisherman, I wanted to see what I would catch.

Some 80 or 90 apples later, I am able to report that a grand total of one had fallen into the open barrel.

All around the green barrel, mere feet away, dozens of apples litter the ground. Some nestled right up against the outside of the rolling bin.

Inside the wide-mouth barrel: One.

Can a fruit tree laugh? Can it be penalized for taunting?

I thought about repositioning the rolling receptacle. But you know as well as I do what would happen. The tree would immediately start plopping apples right where the barrel had been.

OK, if you are poised and ready to lecture me about wasting food, save your breath.

The apples in question are edible. But beyond that, I make no claims for them.

About 20 years ago, my mother-in-law used some to make applesauce. She is an accomplished cook. It was a valiant culinary effort. But it took a tremendous amount of sweetening and spices to get that applesauce up on its feet.

Then a few years later one of my next-door neighbor’s friends asked if she could pick some of our apples for a pie or two. I told her that was fine with me, but cautioned her not to get her hopes up. I seem to remember holding the ladder.

I never heard from her again. I can only surmise that the pies did not win a ribbon at the fair.

Our resident squirrels seem able to tolerate them though. For the seeds, I guess. So I always leave a few for them. The others go into the green barrel.

It’s a lot of bending over. I’m not as young as I was when I first met this tree 22 years ago. But I like the idea of living in Washington and having an apple tree. Seems fitting.

I have no idea what variety it is. Maybe it’s a South Hill Tasteless Wonder.

The apples hanging from its branches eventually become red. Right now, they’re about halfway there.

I’ve been told about botanical contraceptives I can apply earlier in the year to prevent fruit production. But I like the short-duration white blossoms and seeing the bees go about their business.

Picking up a few apples is a small price to pay for this show.

A co-worker once suggested I could donate my annual haul to a deer hunter in her family who might use them as bait. I declined, thinking the tree would not approve.

It has occurred to me that perhaps I’m the problem. You see, I have a troubled track record as a grower.

When I was about 10, I had a small pumpkin patch in our backyard in Ohio. My mother made a pie from my modest harvest.

It proved impervious to any and all attempts to sweeten it or bring out some flavor. My brother’s theatrical gagging sounds were only slightly exaggerated.

But I’ll keep trying to catch a few apples in the green barrel. And I’ll pick up most of the rest.

A couple of weeks from now I’ll do what I always do when, as Bob Seger put it, autumn’s closing in.

I’ll reach up and pick a good one and take it inside to wash. Then I’ll try to find a sharp knife and slice off a piece.

You never know until you try.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

Summer isn’t officially over yet.

But road trip season typically winds down after the start of school. With that comes an easing of a classic American tension dividing countless Inland Northwest families.

You know, whether to pull over and check out roadside historical markers.

OK, members of some families are all on the same page about this. Everyone wants to stop and read the plaques. Or no one does.

Either way, no problem.

But more often, at least in my limited experience, it’s a case of some do and some don’t. The kids do not always get a vote – at least they didn’t once upon a time. But if it’s a mixed marriage, at least in terms of attitudes about roadside markers, it just takes two to create a carful of discord.

In a nutshell, here are the arguments.

“C’mon, it’ll just take a second.”

And, “We’re never gonna get there if we keep stopping every 2 miles.”

Of course, sometimes you can read the highway plaque on your phone without ever having to pull over.

That’s convenient, I guess. But it’s not quite the same as hearing a member of your family read aloud about some noteworthy event or explorer.

Sure, occasionally this is accompanied by eye-rolling and performance boredom in the back seat. But like so many things having to do with families and summer, attitudes can evolve over the years.

Kids don’t always realize it, at least not in the moment. But sometimes the reason the family is pulling over to read a plaque has little to do with an abiding interest in history but a lot to do with the fact their late grandmother used to do it.

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached at srpaulturner@gmail.com.