Stalking the Wild Apple Tree

E Clarks RanchSee the apple tree in the brown meadow about dead center of this photo?  I did while driving about where this photo was taken (yes, I know, my apple obsession is becoming creepy). 

I tried to get to it for a couple years, but the valley its in is guarded by steep hillsides and almost impenetrable brush and stickers.  Finally last Saturday I asked our adventurous Scoutmaster Bill to accompany me to stalk it, and if possible, bag a cutting.

We went round the back down a steep firebreak that a 4WD club considered challenging enough to make multiple assaults, and got within stalking range.  Since we approached from downwind the poor tree never saw us coming and we bagged a nice section of budwood for my trophy collection.  We found about a dozen other 100+ year-old trees in the herd spaced on 20′ centers, suggesting this valley once was home to thousands of apple trees prior to it being taken over by the Forest Service.

E Clarks Apple Tree

But the tree (Rome Beauty by the way) almost had its revenge.  It was about 90 degrees and we didn’t relish the steep hike up the slippery firebreak, and so we thought from the aerial photo I had that we could bushwack back to the trucks, and so we started out through the fern-covered hillside.  Soon the ferns turned to brush, and then the brush turned to thickets of live oak and stickerbushes that we hacked a trail through with my little pruning shears.  After about an hour of hacking and brush busting, we debated turning back and taking the firebreak, but we were about out of water and decided to press on.  We hit tantalizing pockets of open space, but it quickly turned to thick brush again.  Taking a break under a rare piece of shade, we finished off the last of the water and I hoped my wife wouldn’t become a widow. 

Bushwack Bill

Breaking out in the open we saw the trucks heartbreakingly high up on the hillside, and started out again.  The photo below shows what we came through, and yes, Bill is standing up (this was one of the more open sections).  With a final push, we made it to the trucks and the two bottles of hot water Bill kept in the side panels.  With grateful hearts we drove to Seven Oaks resort, where we ordered two of the most delicious ice teas I’ve ever had.  I grafted our “prize” onto Antonovka rootstocks this evening for transplanting to the Historic Mountain Apple Orchard next fall.

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