Tuesday, March 23, 2010


This morning while on vacation, I pruned three trees. It should have done it earlier but first there was a wedding and then the rains made the ground soggy. Noticing the sprouting leaf tips, I wondered if I should wait another year. No, I decided, now was the time.

Trimming some branches was easy: I needed a path and it was in the way. Snip! It was gone! Or, it rubbed the roof so I snipped or sawed until it was removed. Other shearing had to be thought through more carefully. I asked myself, “Which branch is really in the way?” or “Which branch will shape the tree so I can reach the fruit?” Little snips here and there were made before carefully slicing off larger portions. Round and round the tree I worked, being aware of the rule of thumb: never cut off more than one-third of the tree.

Two years ago I drastically butchered the fig tree (oh yes, a BIG third gone). Because I had never trimmed it before, I learned a hard lesson: branches that touch the ground grow roots! Lots of digging was required to get the tree down to a manageable size. This year was a breeze. The thick branches were soft and I quickly cut, knowing this tree is forgiving and will soon grow back in.

The pygmy tangelo was the smallest of the three, but the wood was the hardest. Pruning shears only worked on the littlest twigs and I had to be careful to saw only the deadwood, not living branches. As I worked I was reminded of when we edit our writing:

It never seems to be the right season.

Sometime little snips are best.

Other times we must lop off sentences, well-loved paragraphs, or even chapters.

At times we have to dig around asking ourselves appraising questions to determine which are the most important parts to keep. This can be hard because so much effort and emotion are rooted into the writing.

Just as climbing a ladder gives new perspective to not only see which branch needs to be cut and how far back, asking a friend to critique our work can give us the feeling of being lifted up on a giant’s back, so we have new insights to consider. Freedom to cut can become clearer.

With training I learned that the branch I have the most trouble with on the apricot tree should have been cut off the second year we had the tree. Wanting the tree to live, I needed to remember the rule of not cutting off more than one third. It has taken me years to reshape it but it has been worth it. I think we have to be careful when we edit to not cut too much off at a time. The integrity of the piece needs to be maintained. That doesn’t mean it won’t eventually be cut down to the right size. It may just have to mature a little longer so we wait until the next time or season we edit.

Once I found myself thanking the disconnected branch for its production of fruit! That was funny; I have never yet been able to eat a single ripe apricot, considering the birds get to them first. Being grateful for the process allows us to appreciate the finished product even more.

Besides, it humbles us when someone gushes about our writing when we know just how much we agonized over it for hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

As I look out my window, I like what I see. The trees will grow better now that they have been trimmed. I can clean up my pruning tools and put them away for awhile. But just like with our writing, we need to keep our tools sharpened and techniques close at hand so they will be ready each time we look at a piece.

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