The other day Ritchie came home from work, donned his athletic garb, grabbed a ladder and the loppers and took to the backyard. As I wrestled with an unruly crab bisque in the kitchen, I repeatedly glanced out the back window to see him carefully pruning one of our peach trees. He would stand below the tree thoughtfully and look up through the scattered branches seeking to work with the tree’s growth, the space we have for it and it’s purpose in our life. Each winter, when the trees have shed their leaves they give us a clear view of their branches and we’re invited to take an intentional look at their growth.
As he went about the work of pruning this tree over the next few days, he’d check with me about a particular branch and we’d discuss the direction of it’s growth, how much to cut, where to make the cut and where the fruit would be. We’d talk about the size of last year’s fruit, it’s flavor and accessibility at picking time and our plans for next year’s growth. The branches cultivated this year will bear fruit next year so it’s important to train the tree in the direction we want to see the fruit. We always leave some low-growing branches for Jessica and her friends to pick from and we try to avoid having branches that require precarious ladder arrangements in order to harvest the peaches.
We’ve been tending this tree for 11 years now. When I look out at it I am reminded of our pruning choices of the past as I see sealed scars where thick branches were excised. I can see long and awkward angles where we allowed growth to continue in directions that extended the tree beyond usefulness. I can also track our progress as pruners. Our initial pruning efforts, while well-intentioned and enthusiastic, represent the work of learners. We pruned it in arching open ways like a shade tree instead of the more stocky and accessible fruit tree that it is. And honestly some years the loppers never saw the light of day and we didn’t prune it at all. Those years are the most evident in this tree’s unique shape. Growth allowed to continue past the point of it’s usefulness creates reparative work that can go on for years. Thankfully, the tree, like life, is ever-evolving and very forgiving. Thanks to the experience and the counsel of gardeners wiser than ourselves, we’ve learned to make gradual changes at pruning time to help the tree contain and channel it’s growth in ways that honor the distinct place this beautiful tree occupies. As our six year old and her apricot labradoodle scampered about helping us collect the downed branches, we looked forward to this year’s growth and watching her enjoy the fruits of our labors.