from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

the art of pruning

I always think that January is going to be a slow time in my calendar, as befits hibernation season, and each year I'm caught off-balance by the fact that it never is. (You'd think I'd have got it, after so many years of working freelance.)

So in fact there's been a huge amount of work going on, mostly on the computer for long days for me, arranging, organising and promoting the courses for the year which create the bulk of my income (like 97% of writers, the income from my books is not enough to live on).

And finally my websites are more-or-less up-to-date with the annual expressive arts courses and retreats that I lead, many of them at least in part outdoors in beautiful and often sacred places, that I find so very inspiring.

And for too many weeks now I haven't even looked at the forest book whose first draft I've nearly completed; not even once this year, I believe.

Anyway, in between all the admin-type stuff, for a couple of weeks in January I spent a delicious hour or three most weekdays, drizzle or frost alike, up in our little orchard pruning the apple trees who've been consistently generous with their fruit, as you can see above, despite being somewhat neglected the last couple of years.

I can't begin to tell you what joy such a simple hands-on experience has brought me. I never expected to spend so much of my life indoors at a computer, and being out with the trees and plants has been so restorative; very healing.

I couldn't reach the tall branches without a ladder (since the trees are planted on quite a slope it needs two people really: one to climb to the top of the tree, and the other to put their counterweight on the ladder, so that occupied parts of two weekends as well, when TM could join me). SO I've been doing the equivalent of a pudding-bowl haircut on the lower parts of the trees. (Or perhaps that's more a kind of spherical mullet-cut??)

I love the apple trees. I talk to them all the time. Their wonderful harvest lasts us months into the deep winter, despite TM getting through half a dozen a day (! at least it's a healthy addiction.)

And we've a new addition to plant this weekend: a little Germaine de Brasparts that we brought back from Brittany after having tasted the fruits of this at some friends' – perhaps the most delicious apple, dessert and cooker both, that I've ever eaten. It'll like our soil here, so similar to its original soil in the Monts d'Arrée.

As you might know, apples are also a deeply magical tree. They're one of the sacred trees of ancient Britain, and are associated with Avalon (as the name tells us), the Otherworld, Morgan la Fée, and Merlin, among others. (There have been tombs excavated from the Neolithic era where mummified apple slices on small platters have been found.)

Pruning is something I'm anxious about in theory – it seems so imposed and unkind, and I don't feel confident in my knowledge – and enjoy enormously in practice. The principles are simple:

  • let light into the centre of the tree
  • have an eye to the overall shape: it needs to be goblet-shaped
  • cut back diseased, damaged, crossing or rubbing branches.
My instinct is to keep pruning to an absolute minimum.  However, as I work with each tree, hands on its branches, listening to it, and sensing its healthiest shape, I find I do know how much I need to cut back – and this year it was quite a lot. It felt a bit shocking, but stepping back I was aware that the tree each time seemed to exhibit a new light springiness, such as that I felt a couple of weeks ago when I had 15 cms. cut off the length of my hair.

And, being a poety type, it's not long, as I prune steadily, until I start thinking in metaphors. Specifically, this time, about pruning, and what in my life (it being a new year) could do with cutting back.

Letting light into the centre. Cutting back any unhealthy or diseased growth. Having an eye to the shape of a life.

Here's my list. Any of this resonate for you?


  • Is the way I’m living congruent with my values? If not, what needs to go?

  • Do I squander my energy and my time in prevarication and distractions?
  • In what areas of my life do I need to concentrate my energy and time?

  • What is my clutter – physical, mental, emotional – looking like?

  • How many of my ‘things’ can I let go of?

  • Do my habits, beliefs, thoughts, words and deeds support a deep, compassionate and clear way of living?

  • Do my friendships and relationships support me in being the best I can, and vice versa?
  • Does the way I live my days add up to the way I want to live my life? (pace Annie Dillard)
And on those notes, I might just get out into the somewhat sleety rain for half an hour to finish the final few branches of the last tree... then perhaps I can start writing again...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive