Pruning Time


The days are growing a little longer, and I contemplate the coming of spring, with its promise of new growth, new beginnings, and, with work, an abundant harvest.

A few days ago, the sun was out and it was time to prune my little apple orchard. With newly sharpened and oiled pruners, I ventured out, soon shedding my sweatshirt and enjoying the physical work and the satisfaction of making the foundation for this year’s apple harvest.

I pruned out the dead branches, the branches that crossed each other and rubbed in the wind, and the few limbs that were diseased. Then I topped the scraggly branches that won’t produce fruit. I didn’t hold back, pruning and cutting with vigor, as I shaped the orchard into tidiness, preparing the trees for a healthy summer of apple production.

Where there was chaos, I brought order, and cleaned things up, making for a bountiful year in this corner of our land.
A nice pile of trimmings grew, bound for my friend, the fisherman, who welcomes my annual gift of apple wood for his smoker. One man’s discards are another man’s treasure.

As I went about my work, I felt my shoulders twinge from this new work of muscles and joints, gone soft from an idle winter in the house watching the cold rain fall. The sun felt warm on my pale skin, and I contemplated the smile of my friend as he thought of all the salmon he could smoke with my gift.

There will be many gifts from all the pruning: healthier apple trees, more apple pie filling, apple butter, and cider for next winter, a springtime of trees loaded with pink blossoms, and a summer of vigorous, healthy trees growing a new crop of fruit.

My friend will do his own magic with the prunings, and create mouth-watering smoked fish, putting smiles on more faces.

There were other lessons in the pruning; how cutting back, taking out our dead and dying wood, and opening our branches to the bright sunshine will bring bigger, juicier fruit to our lives.

Old thoughts, and old ways of doing things need to be looked at, with newly sharpened pruners in my hand. If I want a vigorous tree to grow, or a bountiful harvest, I need to think of the pruning that would move my life in the right direction.

The young men in my life are pruning their orchards now, with newly sharpened tools and a fresh determination to transform their lives. They are looking at their past, and their dreams, and finding the directions they want to go. Dead wood and dis-ease are being cut away, and their trees are being reshaped and thinned. Only the vigorous branches remain, with the promise of abundant and fertile blossoms to emerge in the springtime of their youth.

Old ways of thinking are being evaluated. New paths and fresh thinking are being explored, and they are moving ahead; their minds always challenging and testing. Boys are turning into healthy, thoughtful young men; the best type of crop to raise.

They are learning about their emotions, finding names for feelings and thoughts, figuring out how to live with themselves and with others as healthy young men, with clear, focused minds.
I prune my apples every year. I expect my young friends to find their pruners and tree saws, too, and also tend to their orchards. My task is to show them the way, teaching them to be good orchardists for their own lives.

It is a lifelong challenge, this living with one’s emotions and feelings. Like good farmers, they tend their fields and pay attention to their crops, and weathering the storms that roll in, bringing new challenges and opportunities.

They say they learn from me, but I also learn from them. Their courage and determination reinvigorates me, in my journey through this life. They make me a better farmer, a better caretaker of my own orchard. Because of them, my harvest is more abundant and sweeter.

–Neal Lemery 1/29/2016

Gathering At The Tree Stump


 

He knelt down by the fresh stump, his finger counting the rings.

“Thirty seven,” he said.

The group of young men talked about the tree that had stood in the small grove of pine trees in the prison yard. I asked them to look at the tree stump, and the story it told about the life of the tree, planted when this youth correctional camp first began, the tree a witness for all the young lives that had been transformed here.

They were astonished that tree trunks had rings, that the rings could tell the story of the tree, of winters and summers, good years, and lean, of the fertility of the soil, the amount of rain.  Other young men reached out, too, touching the rough wood cut by the chainsaw, feeling the sawdust, the ooze of the pine pitch.

“Smell it, taste it if you want,” I said.  “You can taste the freshness of pine.”

Only one man was brave enough to take me up on my offer, touching his finger to the fresh gob of pine pitch, his eyes widening when his tongue confirmed my opinion.

“This is where turpentine comes from,” I said.

His puzzled look told me he had no idea what I was talking about.

“Turpentine.  Paint thinner.  It comes from pine trees.”

He nodded, taking in the new concept, gaining a new appreciation of the trees.  Until now they just offered shade, where young men could gather for a conversation, maybe a visit with family on a sunny day.  Three times a day, on the way to chow, they passed by these trees.

These trees were just familiar things, ordinary pine trees, until we stopped to count the rings and stick fingers into pine tar.

We talked about the pine tree’s story, how it had thrived its first five years. Then, the other trees started to shade it and compete for nutrients.  We looked, seeing how the growth slowed, the rings tight in its final years.  History was being told in a new way.

We had spent the morning talking about plants and gardening, how to think about designing a place of beauty in the world, a place of quiet and growth, places of new beginnings.  Their questions of their teachers showed their eagerness to learn new ways of nurturing a garden, to make something more beautiful through their work.

In the greenhouse, they had repotted young seedlings, making way for tender young roots to grow bigger, helping the coming summer’s vegetable garden prosper by their early spring work on the  potting bench.

With cut down cardboard boxes and potting soil, and bits of plants cut from the teacher’s garden, they fashioned their visions of what their own gardens and yards would be.  Pebbles and colored stones became rock walls and paths, and tiny paper cups were ponds and pools. Their dreams came to life. Proudly, they showed the rest of us how they wanted their homes would be, how they would bring beauty and nature into their lives.

While we made labels for seedlings, and chose the plants that needed repotting, several young men and I talked about our own lives and why we were gardeners, how that job fit into our lives, of pruning and weeding, and choosing the right soil and fertilizer for our journeys.

Looking at the stumps and the remaining trees, we talked about the planters of the trees, what they envisioned, how they planted the trees, what they wanted to accomplish.  We talked about why we plant trees, and how we care for them.

When someone mentioned nurturing young lives, the young men silently nodded.

As rain moved in, we left the pine tree stump, and the rest of the pines, having new answers for how the trees came to be there in the prison yard, and how the remaining trees were going to grow.  One man turned back, looking at the stump, his hand rising to his mouth for one more taste of the pine.

He smiled, and stood just a little taller.

4/4/15