Yesterday I finally got outside and pruned one of the cherry trees in our little orchard. Pruning has always baffled me. My trees never look like the trees in the pruning guides, and though they are dwarf trees, they grow quickly long and gangly. I wish I didn’t have to prune, but experts say it is part of the work of caring for fruit trees. There are differences of opinion about the best time to prune, but for me it was partly based on actually being able to get close to the tree–the snow cover has kept me away before now.
But this post is not a how-to guide, nor meant to offer any wisdom about pruning. It is about risk and relationship. Sometimes we have to risk doing it all wrong, to do anything at all. Yesterday I took that risk, and in doing so, I realized that pruning is also about relationship. I had to get up close to the tree, stand on a ladder and notice all of its branches, all of its patterns, all of the pre-buds starting to form. I talked to the tree while I worked, asking for advice or forgiveness or something like that. I had to acknowledge that I am not the wisest or best caregiver for the tree, but here I am–I am your person and you are my tree. We are here on this land together. In the task of pruning, I become closer to the tree.
Pruning is odd to me, yet it is a welcome phenomenon for many plants. They thrive with cutting back, they are energized by it, it sets their hormones racing and can spark new growth. There are many principles which vary between species, and which are hard for me to translate into action for particular trees. But I think the only way I can really learn is by doing it, taking the risk with these trees, and doing the best I can. Letting the tree be imperfect, and letting myself be imperfect in my relationship to the tree.
I guess my winter project has been a sort of pruning too, going through old papers and recycling a bunch of them, organizing the rest. I had to get close to those papers too, sifting through each document in each file folder. I had hoped to be further along with it all, as we’ve turned the corner on Spring, and the sun and warmth begin to call me outside. I am mostly all done with papers from before I moved to Maine in 2005. But I am just beginning to sort through my work in ministry at the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church and in Portland. More of these “papers” are actually documents on my laptop, rather than in boxes in the basement. (I guess I could sit outside with my laptop for that kind of pruning!) I wonder. By pruning away these “branches” from the past, might I find more energy for living in these days and moments of the present? Do I need the pruning as much as the trees do?