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Black Lamb


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Reculer pour mieux sauter

January 1st, 2016


On my ramshackle farm in the French sticks, the closest I’ve come to The Farmer’s Almanac is a thing called the Calendrier lunaire, which gives a schema for every month of the year, a complex color-coded diagram featuring an s-curve to indicate the times of the moon’s waxing and waning, with, scattered along this curve, tiny drawings to indicate constellations and signs (fire signs, air signs, water signs, and earth signs), drawings of grains or fruit according to which days are good for working with these, and something to do with Chinese seasons which I don’t yet have a clue about. I feel that if I could only understand it, the Calendrier lunaire would give me all the answers I need to get through life.

grapesAfter a lot of effort I figured out that the optimum time for me to prune my grape vines in February was only up to February 20-21 at the end of the moon’s waning; after that, I’d have to wait until at least March 7, which, according to an organic gardening book I have, is kind of late to prune vines in the Loire Valley. I drove around the countryside here to check out the vineyards in the area and discovered that all the old guys were pruning away on February 19, so I hauled out one of the tall wooden ladders and climbed up to our vines, which ramble along the front of our big south-facing stone barn. These vines hadn’t been trimmed in some time. My book told me what to do, to look for the ex-fruit-bearing shoots and trim them back to the first node, and give the new fruit-bearing shoots two nodes heading up, or something like that. That’s what I tried to do, though I have to admit that as a pruner, I’m a wimp. It’s so hard to cut off life, when I can see those little buds forming.

Eventually, though, I came to understand that the vine had done its own kind of pruning by letting last year’s fruit-bearing sections die (some of them still with dried-up bunches of grapes on them) and putting its energies into the new stock. When I moved from the vines to the hydrangeas and huge old wisteria vine, this process became even clearer. The hydrangea was filled with big brown balls of dried blossoms, and all the stalks holding these were dead, while others held the tiny green leaves the plant was forming. I was reminded of stories of American Indian culture, in which the old ones, revered for their superior knowledge, decided when it was time for them to go off alone and die, leaving space and energy for the next generation instead of hanging out half-alive in a special-care facility.

As I clipped away with my brand-new pruning shears, I thought of all the pruning I’ve done in my own life. I’ve pruned away my troubled marriage, my hated Paris job, and my cramped, pricey Paris apartment. I’ve pruned away almost all visits to restaurants, museums, or anything else that takes more time and money than I now have. I’ve even pruned away some friendships with people who don’t understand at all why I want to live the way I’m living. A lot of the pruning was for my daughter. I clip off the things in our lives that don’t seem to be good for her, for example a relationship I had with a man who made her unhappy, or a city whose pollution kept her constantly unwell. But a lot of the pruning was for me. I turned fifty two months after we moved here, approaching the winter season of my life in the springtime of a country year, and I felt I had to cut out the bad in order to have enough energy in my aging body to cope with the good, to cope with my growing young daughter.

I don’t know if I’m doing this right; that’s the worry. In fact, often I know I’m doing it wrong. I’ll have to wait a few seasons to be sure about the long-term effects. But at this point the act of pruning is as important as anything that might grow out of it. •

This essay first appeared in the January 2003 issue of Black Lamb.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Emerson | Link to this Entry


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