To lose a tree
Last year, a late frost took its toll on the crab apple tree outside my kitchen window. I had been looking forward to trying a batch of crab apple hot pepper jelly when it gave forth its fruit in the fall, thwarted by a freeze that took all of the tree's beautiful blossoms. All summer, I watched each of its crinkled leaves struggle to hang on, give up the fight and drop. It produced less than a dozen crab apples, and was barren of leaves in fruit long before the leaves turned in the fall. I was certain we had lost it.

This Spring, however, brought new life. Beautiful blossoms sprang forth, covering the tree with pink blossoms and filling the air with their faint fragrance. Retrieving the dog from his spot under the crab apple one Spring day, I found myself in the middle of a light snow of softly falling pink petals as the air buzzed with the sound of bees working somewhere unseen overhead. It was a sight to behold, and my heart was filled with gladness that our tree had indeed survived. And I could almost taste our crab apple hot pepper jelly after two years of simmering in my mind.

Then came the storm. Seventy mile an hour gusts of wind drove streams of water uphill, and littered our yard with tree limbs. Upon inspection, we found that the crab apple had escaped serious damage, but noted a broken limb fairly high in the tree. It hadn't been broken off in the storm, as it had obviously been there for some time. But it needed to come down, so we prepared to prune the tree.

As my husband carefully went over the tree, snipping off dead branches here and there on his way up to the large limb, I began looking more closely at the leaves. They had that same shriveled look they had had the year before. And an unpleasant thought struck me.

I came in to search diseases affecting crab apple trees and found information about fire blight, a contagious bacterial infection causing leaves to shrivel, brown prematurely and eventually give the tree a burned appearance. The look of our tree was similar, although I could find no evidence of the bacteria filled ooze associated with the progression of the disease. Treatment? Cut back the diseased limbs, and treat the remaining foliage and branches with an anti-bacterial agent, hoping that eventually the healthy living tissue takes over and the disease is effectively cut out.

As we began to go over the tree, however, we found only a few suckers appeared to be healthy. Over 90% of the tree bore shriveling brown leaves. We were not sure of our diagnosis, but the tree obviously wasn't doing well. And we have other fruit trees on the way which might possibly be infected if this was indeed fire blight. So we decided the tree would have to come down.

So my husband began to saw. Bit by bit, he worked his way down through the larger branches and to the trunk of the tree. The neighbor came over with his chain saw, and they made short work of the trunk. The house looked naked without its sentry shading the side of the house and yard.

When I finally went back to look at the pile of branches, the cause of the tree's foliage issue was abundantly clear: it was rotting from the inside out. Near the base of the tree, the rot had reached the living tissue just under the bark which was also softened. I never would have guessed.

The health of a tree is judged by its foliage and the fruit it bears. There was evidence this tree was going to give forth fruit in abundance this year from the number of tiny crab apples developing on their stems, but the leaves were showing the first signs of stress. But it took a close and deliberate inspection to really see that the tree was suffering. From a distance, it looked like a healthy tree.

In the Christian walk, too, our spiritual health is identified by the fruit we produce. But sometimes, the disease can be hidden in a flurry of activity and Christian behaviors. Close inspection may reveal the shriveled look, the evidence of disease.

For the last couple of months, I have felt a lot like that tree. Outwardly, I go through the same motions and involve myself in the same activities. But I question why. Mostly out of habit, because I just do not feel particularly "in" to any of it. I tell myself I just need to read my bible more. Pray more. Focus more. And be patient with myself. I know God can heal hearts, but the cutting process isn't always pleasant.