Pruning Towards a Stronger Community


I’m a Master Gardener, a community service organization in my community, supported by the Home Extension Service of Oregon State University. We learn evidence based horticultural practices and share those practices and our love of gardening with the community.

One of our community service activities is hosting a community Pruning Day. We offer our pruning to folks who are unable to fully care for their gardens, and help shape up their gardens for spring. This year, I was in one of the twelve teams who visited people throughout the county.

The faces of the our team’s clients, elderly people who welcomed us into their gardens and homes, shined with delight and gratitude. Our team descended upon them, clippers and loppers in garden-gloved hands. We quickly set to work, creating piles of brush and gardens of newly ordered shrubs and trees.

Many hands made light work, and the tasks were quickly accomplished, along with the laughter of many eager hands.

The real gold of the day was hearing our clients tell us their stories, and the story of their garden and orchard, what that place meant to them, and how their work there had shaped their lives. The conversations turned into sermons of stewardship and reflection on well-lived lives. And, tears of gratitude were shed for our presence, and our time and work, our own love for their garden and orchard.

Afterwards, we gathered around the table, sharing their food, and continuing our conversations begun in the garden. There was a fellowship, with our new friends, and with each other. The joys of gardening and service were shared, along with homemade cinnamon rolls and cider pressed from the apples grown on the trees we had pruned.

We made connections, with the earth, with each other, and with lonely people who had their stories to tell.

Community was built on Saturday, one snip of the pruning shears at a time, and a reweaving and strengthening of the community fabric. We are all stronger because of that work, and that time together.

Our county is a better place today because of Pruning Day. Yes, gardens are neater, and orchards are now ready for a productive year of fruit growing. We have cut out the dead wood, brought light into dark places, and invigorated our orchards. Today, we have stronger community relationships with new friends.

—-Neal Lemery 3/7/16

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

Some Thoughts on Pruning


“Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to move into the next season. Everything that is alive requires pruning as well, which is a great metaphor for endings.”
—Henry Cloud, psychologist, author

I’ve been pruning a lot lately. The garden is now better because of my thinning, shaping, redirecting. When you prune a fruit tree, the energy is redirected, refocused. Good pruning cuts out those parts that are diseased, dead, misdirected, helping the plant grow better, have a more bountiful harvest.

When I take my pruning shears into the garden, I am reminded to look again at my life, and apply those lessons inward.

3/6/2015