What the trees think of us

I like to wonder what the trees think of us.  They stand through frosts and heat waves, catching the first light of morning and the last reflected rays of evening, day after day after day.  Many of them were planted when I was still a kid, oblivious to their existence and instead picking little Italian plums from my front yard in the summer.  Even the youngest trees in the orchard have known the farm longer than I have.  They came from various nurseries, grafted by nimble hands to make whole two disjointed halves.  Since they were planted, they have known only one spot on this planet.  They've watched the world go by.

At this time of year, they don't see many people.  We come all-of-a-sudden out of winter, just as their buds are swelling and breaking open, with pruners and loppers and saws.  As we trained the interns today on thinning and heading cuts and how to decide whether to let a branch live or fall to the ground, Michael said he felt bad for the trees.  I did, too.  But I also like to pretend that they feel relief and gratitude toward us for lifting a weight off their shoulders, trimming their hair, making more room for growth in the coming season.  They got so much attention and care today after being untouched since last summer's harvest.  For the plums, we'll only come to visit so intimately again when the fruit is nearly ripe-- youth farmers and neighborhood kids will be sampling and sharing them in awe as juice drips down their chins.  And once we clear the plums away, they'll get to stand in peace again until a chilly day in early spring when a crew of mostly strangers descend with cutting tools.

 Plums reaching skyward

Plums reaching skyward

I like to think that, maybe after a couple years tending it, I'm becoming familiar to the orchard.  (Then again, I just finished reading Lord of the Rings, and if the Ents are at all like our trees, I'll be just a blip in their eon-long dreams.)  If we're so fleeting to them, why is it that they make such a beautifully vivid impression on us?  The experience of learning to prune ignited the interns this morning, and I'm sure we all have visions of sun-kissed, swollen plum buds cementing in our memories.  We feel the bark, we bend the branches, and we look so closely at tiny nodes emerging from old growth.  The smell of plum blossoms (from other varieties that are already open- those ones I pruned a while back) and spring grass infuse us.  Our arms and necks ache from looking up, and our hands find their strength with each clip.  Moving and working in the three-dimensional space of a fruit tree keeps us awake and alert.

 Plum blossoms breaking

Plum blossoms breaking

I just hope the trees can sense the delight that people experience when they have the opportunity to interact with them.  I hope they remember us, too.