Friday, January 29, 2016

Pruning Time

                                                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

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Sharpening Our Tools

                                                Sharpening Our Tools

            There’s always a lesson for me in the garden, especially when I’m the teacher.  
            The young men gathered around the table, looking at me, leery about the day’s agenda. The pile of our trusty and well-used pruning shears, weeding forks, and trowels, and my odd assortment of files, oil cans, rags and steel wool was raising some puzzled looks.

            “We’re going to sharpen our tools,” I said. “And that will make us better gardeners.”

            I talked about dirt and grit, and how dull, rusty tools slow us down, and make our work harder.  I talked about rain and damp, and getting rid of rust with a bit of oil wiped on a newly cleaned surface. 

            “If you take care of your tools, they will last a lifetime,” I said.  “It’s a great gift to yourself.”

            I talked about how pruners work, whether anvil or bypass, and why the blades are different.  I picked up a file, showing them how to hone a blade, bringing out the edge.  Doing a good job was all in how you finished it, by gently taking off the burrs on the edge, bringing out the best of the blade, and ourselves.

            The metaphors were not lost on these young men, struggling to remake their lives, and move on to managing their lives in a decent, productive way.

            I showed them how to do the work, and then urged them to pick a tool, and do their magic.  

            “The right tool for the right job,” I said, echoing my grandfather’s wisdom I’d heard when I was a young man. 

            Curious, eager minds asked dozens of questions, and, again, I showed them how to hone the blades, taking their eager hands into mine, helping them grip the file and set to work.

            They found their way, getting a sense of that feel, of file meeting blade, steel against steel, until the newly bright edges met their standards of completion and excellence.  Rust and dirt were buffed away, and a new coat of oil made hinges and springs smooth and silent. Grime and dirt were banished, the young hands feeling how they brought back the life and beauty of the tools they’d used this past year.

            One young man kept doing it differently, missing what I was trying to teach.  I was gentle with him, explaining everything again and again.  I felt my patient grandfather in me, as I took his hand and the file, and began the lesson again. 

            Uncertain frowns gave way to smiles and shared accomplishments, the pleasure of making something as good as new. I saw young men restoring something to its original good purpose, gaining pride in who they were, and knowing what they could do.

            We sharpened all of our tools today, and we sharpened some lives, too.  I sensed my grandfather’s arm around me, holding me tight, whispering how proud he was of how I sharpened my tools.

--Neal Lemery 1/23/2016

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Taking Time To Listen


“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

            Yes, I learn more when I listen than when I speak.       

            If I admit to myself that I don’t know it all, that I don’t have to dominate the conversation, to show others how much I know, then I can really learn.  In listening, there is evaluation, analysis, and, gasp, thinking.

            I might even change my views, and look at the world, or at least a small part of it, in a different way. 

            And, in the listening, I will learn, gaining new wisdom to meet the challenges of life.

--Neal Lemery 1/12/2016

Friday, January 1, 2016



What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain.”

 Today, the first day of the new year, is here.  Change is here. Change is inevitable.
            I take down the old calendar, and put up the new one.  Its pages are fresh, clean, but soon to be filled up with appointments, events, the significant occurrences and adventures of the new year.
            A fresh year, a new start, and off we go.  Already, I am deciding what to do, how to interact with the world, how to be a productive and healthy person.
            How do I meet the challenges of the new year?  Old habits, old ways of thinking, or maybe a new approach, a new paradigm for the new year.
            Every day, actually, is like New Year’s Day.  We have that ability to make a fresh start, and embrace new ways of thinking, every day.
            I embrace the old ways, the routines.  They are comforting, predictable, familiar.  Yet, following those old ways, being in my rut, assures me of not growing, and not realizing my potential in this new year, this new day. 
            A new year is a new beginning, if I want it to be truly a fresh start.
            “Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi said. 
            I do want the world to change.  But first, I need to change.  It is up to me to begin.

Neal Lemery 1/1/2016