Among the blessings of winter, one stirs special gratitude within me. This is the season when Mother Nature generously reveals the elegant architecture of trees. Sturdy base roots to delicate, finger-thick branches, the magnificent artistry wrought in wood is laid bare.
I stand in awe, marveling at the sometime symmetrical, sometimes elaborate and complex spreading of branch over branch. Poetry in form, limb giving way seamlessly to limb like so many perfect words strung together in memorable meter. The uppermost branches touch the underbelly of the broad blue winter sky, linking heaven and earth. Near to earth, broad base gives way to a dense network of taproots that burrow deep into the soil, sourcing moisture, minerals, and organic material essential for healthy growth. Married with sunlight, these nutrients will grow green leaves, growth buds, and – in time – blossoms and fruit that delight our senses, nourish our bodies.
Winter is also the time for pruning apple and pear trees, making careful cuts that encourage vitality and productivity. An alchemy of scientific technique and artful sculpting, skillful pruning promotes the maximum healthy, generative growth of abundant fruit for generations.
One recent bright February afternoon, I watched as Orin Martin, veteran Director of UC Santa Cruz's Alan Chadwick Garden, aggressively trimmed two- and three-year old apple, aprium, and pear trees. Systematically, with the trained hand of one accustomed to the task and the artist’s gift for simultaneous attention to big picture vision and laser-like focus in execution, he deftly severed and tossed aside 2" thick limbs from young, gangly trees standing just 5’ tall. He pruned away false leader limbs, which vied for the essential nutrients that would propel growth of a sturdy central trunk capable of sustaining rings of strong branches. To me, an empathetic tree lover, the castoff wood seemed essential to the tree's viability. He explained that the tree’s capacity to bear abundant and healthy fruit well into the future demanded that all of its energy be shunted toward productive growth - that it not waste nutrients on limbs that would ultimately not prove viable for fruit-bearing or those that would bloom out in directions that jeopardized the much grander endeavor of producing exquisite, delicious fruit for years and years. With bold cuts, he excised unproductive branching that resulted in vulnerability for the larger whole.
This winter, I feel I’m being somewhat brutally pruned. Tested. Cut to the core by larger, life-sized questions: How do I want to grow? Can I remain rooted in the vision I hold for my work in the world, for my life? Can I allow for the removal - even when it's painful, harsh - of elements that don't serve me to realize my individual goals and my hopes for the wider world? Can I suffer through looking scraggly and awkward to outside observers for a season or two? Can I shiver under the frost or withstand the dry times rooted in the certainty that I know how to dig even deeper, know how to reach far within and source the energy I need for the longer haul because I’m intent on ultimately growing gloriously full and providing an abundant harvest year after year, both for myself and others?
Bare trees exist side by side with those trying on their spring attire in these dawning days of March: tightly-wrapped bright green buds; hot pink flowers strung along thin branches like pearls; sloppily beautiful cream-colored magnolia flowers lolling open to the morning sun. Here and there, parrot tulips blaze in glory, frilly cherry-red edges rimming yolk-gold petals. An ancient lattice hung with pale yellow climber roses provides a feast for the senses. Regal calla lilies unfurl their linen white surfaces, bright white canvases of possibility. Bud by bud, a strand of lavender wisteria flowers blooms, cascading bountifully over a willing arbor. Songbirds ply the colorful landscape, lending their cheerful chatter to the chorus of new growth.
Transcendentalist writer Ralph Waldo Emerson counseled, “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience." So I patiently wait for winter’s pruning to yield new growth. I sink my feet into the soft earth, sip the spring air through my nostrils, bend my neck back and let my face catch the sun. Soon, I know, the blooming will happen – then, the fruit will set, the harvest will come.