Cutting Away

With the onslaught of Executive Orders and reports of upcoming edicts about immigration, the day was a difficult one. This heaviness in the heart is hard to navigate. The refugees who will now be unable to find refuge here. The suffering of so many penetrates to the core of things.

My mind, restless for answers, turns to thoughts of growing food.  Late in the afternoon, with the gray cover of clouds giving the world a taste of cottony metal, the air milder than the last few days, we went out to prune trees in the orchard. We started with the Asian Pears, scraggly, branching this way and that, turning towards the warmth of the sun, now pushed by the wind from the Fraser Valley, pushed in the spring by the pervasive southwest winds.

We are bundled up and peel as we go. I am still learning. Walter has the experience of forty-five-odd years and the deep intuitive sense that comes from planting these trees and working with them for all the time of their growing here on the farm, watching them, feeding them, protecting them. The question is, over and over, what will ask the tree to produce its fruit, what will give it space and light, maybe not this spring but in some spring to come.

I start by cutting away the obvious water spouts—the straight stalks that spring up from a horizontal branch, growing up and up quickly during some abundant time of water, sun and nutrients, not pausing to allow a spur to grow, no patience for the time it takes for a bud to form. The blades cut through as I squeeze the handles of the big loppers together with all my force. These branches, growing vertically as they do, drop straight to the ground as I clip them. Seeing the weight of the wood as it falls fills me for a moment with plaguing doubts whose painful swirling make me conscious of my separation from everything else, drawing in my attention to the confines of my body as a swarm of bees around my head might do. My heart is suddenly heavy again. Having the sense to stop and breathe, I look up into the branches against the gray sky. The presence of the soft flow of energy beneath my feet reestablishes itself, moving through the structure of a tree, moving gently even in the midst of winter when the growth pauses.

I begin to cut away all the little twigs that pull energy from the main flow. Then I cut the branches curving down and the branches curving in towards the center of the tree. Absorbed, I work to make the tree feel open in its center, spreading out its limbs to welcome warmth and bees and breezes, shortening a branch here and there to keep it out of the way of its neighbor and give the remaining wood more strength. Walter comes over from the apple tree he’s topping to show me how to look at the energy of the tree and to be decisive as the tree guides you, boldly and confidently sawing off a big branch here and there to provide the shape and balance. There’s a certain brutality to it, but the result for the tree feels harmonious, balanced.

“What’s the first thing to remember when you’re pruning?” Walter asks.
I respond “Make clean cuts,” thinking of my roses and of his past instruction.
“Yes,” he says, “that, but also that nature will fix all our mistakes.”
When a tendency is thwarted, it will come back in another way. The art of it is to sense where this life wants to go and not get caught in your worries.

We quietly work together on one tree for a time, he using the pole pruner to cut away high branches. Standing back to see the whole, he says,
“Okay. It’s good. Enough.”
I walk over to stand next to him and see what he is seeing.
“Yes. It feels right.”
Standing there, I actually get the sense the potential energy still sequestered deep in the earth and in the tree’s core will now spread itself with more economy. Satisfying.

As the sun begins to set, we walk around the orchard to look at the other trees, using the attunement we’ve gained in the last hour to see what remains to be done. The presence of the fruit is already there. I can smell it in the soil and the damp air. Food will be there in its cycle. My heart is clear now, warm like my hands, ready for what comes next.

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