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