The old pear tree in the backyard has not produced any fruit this year.

But that’s OK. Last year, it was near death. My husband, Paul, and I are thrilled that the tree is lush and verdant. We are thrilled that it is still alive.

The pear tree sits in the middle of what we call the little backyard. This is a courtyard formed by the ell of the house, a fence and retaining wall, and a two-story garage. The tree holds court, surrounded as it is by shrubs and raised garden beds.

Our house dates from the 1870s, but we don’t think the tree is that old. Maybe just a century. In its honor, I call our place “Pear Tree Cottage.”

I love the pear tree, even though when it does produce fruit, the pears are hard and mealy. We planted a second tree in the big backyard, hoping to help the senior one along through cross pollination. It has not, but “Junior” has produced some tasty pears some years.

The old tree provides shade and beauty and a sense of history. It provides a haven for birds and squirrels. It’s part of the family.


It was painful to see the browntail moth caterpillars decimate both pear trees in May 2022. They even coated the deck in the little backyard. Paul worked tirelessly to eradicate them, sucking them up with a wet/dry vac several times a day. Still they ate and ate, until the trees were ragged and pathetic.

Paul described the scene in a Facebook post: “Almost all of its branches were bare by May and early June, or saddled with hideous, needle-thin green spindles instead of leaves.”

I wanted to cry. The younger tree would probably survive, I thought, but what about our old fellow? He looked so hurt. Sick. And there wasn’t much we could do until the fall. I knew the caterpillars would be spinning their cocoons in late June, but I didn’t think our guy would make it through their siege.

What would Pear Tree Cottage be without its namesake tree? (Spindly Junior, alas, does not yet have the needed grandeur.) If the tree died, we’d have to cut it down. Could we leave the stump and a few branches for the birds to perch on?

I was catastrophizing. No matter. I was distraught and needed to feel proactive.

Then it rained. Buckets of rain fell for days.


All the browntail moth caterpillars suddenly disappeared. And there was rejoicing in the land.

Could it really be that easy? It was.

Of course, the old tree still looked morose and miserable. But it wasn’t dead yet … and with the moths gone — dared we hope?

Then, one morning, Paul and I noticed something curious. Little, healthy shoots of green were appearing all over the old pear tree. It was regenerating. It was coming back to us.

For the rest of that summer, the old pear tree grew gradually greener. There was no fruit, not that we expected any. Junior was looking better as well. The worst was over. Fall came and went, and we saw no signs of moth nests in the trees.

When spring arrived this year, we waited anxiously to see if the pear tree would continue to rebound. Leaves began to appear, and we cheered. Then leaves started springing out of several apparently dead branches. The old guy was outdoing himself.


As summer progressed I would look out the upstairs windows into the depths of the pear tree. I was waiting for blossoms. That would be the final sign to me that the tree had returned 100%.

I wasn’t disappointed. Soon the yard and deck were covered with white flowers.

I suppose for the cycle to be complete, it would have been good to have pears as well. But I think our old fellow needs another year off, to completely regain his strength. I have already promised him a “spa” treatment — a good pruning this fall.

Meanwhile, Junior is doing fine, though he didn’t produce any fruit this year, either. I do appreciate our young pear tree, but I have to admit that the old one holds a special place in my heart. He was here when we bought the house in 1988. He holds its secrets and mysteries. He is of the past, and in an old house, that is important.

The old pear tree holds two bird feeders, a harbor bell that clangs in the wind, and a stone friar on a swing. At its foot is a ceramic “fairy door.” Sometimes squirrels pose on the door’s stoop as they chomp on peanuts. They look adorable.

In the past, the old pear tree could produce 200 or so small, yucky-tasting fruits, all of which had to be picked up and deposited in the compost bins.


I would have really hated to see our old fellow go.

Joni Mitchell wrote, in one of my favorite songs: “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”

So true, but in this case close enough was plenty enough to educate me. The browntail moths did not return to our yard this year. For that, I am truly grateful.

Liz Soares welcomes email at

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