Sometimes the trees can get too tall. They shoot up straight as if to poke the sun. Sometimes they get too green. They wrestle leaves into every clear space, strangling their own fruit. Sometimes they bear too much, globes weighing the branches until they break.
You pretend it’s someone else’s job to care for it, but all along you’ve known the orchard was also yours. You still want to be the child, even though you know they are tired, even though you know it’s your turn, even though you’re the only one who can do it now.
Under the pear tree, the kittens pounce on fireflies and paw at rolling apples. Loppers lean against a trunk, a saw lies on the grass, and a pair of clippers on the ladder shelf. The branches you have cut are black with death and, at first, the trees look bare.
Diseased, broken, or dead: those branches were the easiest to remove. It’s the young ones that break your heart. You must remove those that grow inward and make the tree too dark. Take the ones that grow downward, for they will not support fruit when it comes. Cut the branches that cross others, sowing disorder and conflict.
You must not be too harsh, not too delicate. You must not take too much, not too little. You must not think only of the fruit soon to be in your hand, your pie, your saucepan. You must think of next fall and the next fall and two dozen falls from today.
Don’t think you’re being kind to use a soft blade. Sharp cuts are easier to heal. Don’t think you’re being gentle by leaving some of the branch — you must take it all, for stumps invite rot and parasites.
When you have done the work, the dead wood must be gathered and cleared away. The children won’t want to help. Like you once, they just want to be free. But they need to feel the pull of their muscles and the taste of their sweat. It would be good for them to feel the rhythm and reciprocity of nature’s partnership.
If your life is to be fruitful, you cannot let your orchard go, simply because it will without any help from you. You must be a steward, deciding what lives and what dies.
Wind must be able to rush through your trees, blowing away that which festers and stagnates. Sunlight must be able to reach the inner places, drying the rain and curing the ills.
If your life is to be fruitful, you must visit your orchard in all seasons, learning the shape and habit of each tree, noticing what grows and what aches.
Above all, you must be a friend. When you walk through your orchard, listen more than you speak. Notice the tiniest unfurlings of beauty and grace. Feel how sacred the world is when you see, and the seen senses your gaze.