Brightside Acres
West Virginia Wildgrown®

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The Springtime Edge

Mar 24, 2011

edge(n), a place farthest away from the center of something.

Eight days ago, I saw my first earthworm of the year.

As I pulled-back the garden row cover, picking rocks that seem to work themselves effortlessly upwards from an endless subterranean supply, I gasped at the sight of it, athletically pink and squirming. A true harbinger of Spring if there ever was one. An omen of good gardening to come and at the same time a literal outlier: A worm out of dirt. I scooped up a handful, dropped the worm in the small hole, and covered him with his earthen home. My god, the dirt felt good against my skin.

Eight days ago, bluebirds flew into the vineyard, arraying themselves on post-tops as I last observed October 28. Were these by chance the same birds? Or other birds, to whom "my" Summer residents had spoken? If so, what description spurred longing fierce enough to bring them here, to this mountaintop garden? Was their longing, in the end, so different from mine?

I listened to their chitter-chatter, as to a favorite radio talk show broadcast in a foreign language. How I wanted to find myself able to speak bluebird as well as Finding Nemo's Dory discovered herself able to speak whale. Although "Hello pretty birds!" was an admittedly lame offering, I made it anyway. The bluebirds kept right on gabbing from their vineyard perches.

Eight days ago, I felt the heat of the sun through two shirts--no coat. No coat. Those who dwell in less-harsh environments may not appreciate the significance of going without a coat after 105 days of needing to wear one. Think of the feeling you have after getting a long-overdue haircut, or losing five entirely superfluous pounds. Freedom. You know what I'm talking about.

I stood in the warm sun before an overgrown grapevine, weather-damaged from last May's hard freeze, and just looked at it. I took-in its whole measure. Okay, I know this sounds corny, but this is really and truly how I have trained myself to go about pruning. The very idea of cutting back growth on any thriving plant is hard for this plant-lover to handle. In this mountaintop environment, which is profoundly stunting with respect to the height of any plant, pruning is counter-intuitive, to say the least. Yet, it must be done. And not to achieve some cosmetic ideal, oh no, but in order for the plant to produce fruit.

So I look at the plant as it is, today, and I envision it as I hope it will appear when it is bearing fruit. You might say I try to see the fruit-bearing plant within, and then to make the cuts necessary to allow that fruit-bearing plant to emerge. Ideally, with a healthy number of productive canes or branches or limbs.

Make no mistake, I'm no sculptor; however, I was blessed to visit Florence, Italy as a 21-year-old, and to see Michelangelo's "unfinished captive" sculptures in the piazza leading to David. So many years later, after studying the plants and learning the reasons for pruning (and much trial, error, and patience!), I now see each apple tree and grapevine in terms of those only partially-realized human forms that affected me so deeply as a young woman.

Unfettered growth binds the plants on this mountain and keeps them captive. Pruning is the only way to set them free to fruitfulness. Felco shears are my chisel. Each Spring the plants in my care exist on a precipice between what they've been and what they might become. Their known, quite visible past, and the future I imagine for them.

Eight days ago, I felt the Springtime edge. The tipping point toward Summer. The moment from which the days to the center of Summer harvest might reasonably be counted. My heart swelled, for the first time in nearly four months, at the manifest fact of the creative energy present all around me. I walked from the garden to the house to get some more twist-ties for the vines, Cosmo trotting alongside, my mind filled with nothing but the soft-embracing yes of the Springtime edge.

Eight days later, I feel the relentless razor-sharpness of an echoing no.

The rain, hail, sleet, snow and freezing fog of the past week didn't dull the edge so much as render the cutting tension inherent within it. An edge is, after all, neither there nor here. It is the place where uncommitted potential swings in the gusty wind. It is the place where one looks backward and forward and decides, in the still center of her own heart, if she's got what it takes to make it to the center of Summer.

May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime edge of the bleak question.

--John O'Donohue, "For a Leader", To Bless This Space Between Us