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The north quince has to go!

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Hack out north quince,'' reads my gardening calendar's entry for today. I vaguely remember jotting down that reminder sometime last fall when I was garden-weary and the north quince's naked spines looked too threatening to take on. A gardening calendar is a reckoning: You commit your sober intentions to it, forgetting that the day will come when you flip a page and out they pop like recriminations.

Hack out north quince? Perhaps I counted on prespring exuberance to see me through the prickly chore. But I certainly hadn't counted on the north quince blooming today. It doesn't make my task easier.

I'm not an indiscriminate hacker. The south quince, whose site was carefully chosen, flourishes under my pruning care. Each spring it repays me with the garden's first splash of color: thousands of scarlet-orange cups, each brimming with puffs of gold pollen. And each fall, it yields enough fruit to season the cider. Emerson would approve of such beauty and ''commodity'' combined; the north quince has neither.

Besides, it's a squatter. It sneaks uninvited into a chink in the retaining wall only three feet from the house. During fall storms, it leans over the kitchen window and runs its nails down the glass like the naughty kid at the blackboard when Teacher's back is turned. If only it would bloom with the healthy flush and bounty of the south quince. But in the house's north shadow, it manages only a few anemic blooms, their stamens as thin and translucent as uncooked Chinese bean threads. By midsummer, the north quince is only a thorny tangle from which pale, stunted leaves hang like tattered cloth.

It has to go. Still, you don't hack out a quince without a twinge of conscience. So I review its crimes: An eyesore, it's a terror to women's stockings and the car's new paint job. The north quince has no redeeming value. Verdict upheld: It has to go.

This morning, dressed in two layers to confound the spines, I stand in the kitchen, fix myself a second cup of herb tea, and oil my shears, wondering if the mattock will have to take over at ground level. I glance out the window. Usually, I don't notice the puny tangle of branches outside the glass; I peer right through them to the clay bank where a doe sometimes lingers, deciding whether my roses are worth the risk. But no deer today; instead, I'm acutely aware of the spider-web pattern of quince limbs.


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