05 June 2009


Ed was going to cut the grass this evening, so I volunteered to get out and prune the low branches on our three little trees first. I managed two.

The first one was easy -- the Japanese smoke bush I planted shortly after we moved in three years ago. It's supposed to get 12 to 15 feet tall, which was going to make it perfect for the spot where I put it, in the center right, directly in the path of the mid- to late afternoon sun that blazes into the kitchen and heats the whole room to a near boil. But what had happened was that it formed an odd, somewhat scraggly little bushy section at the bottom, up to about five feet, then sent three gangly shoots straight up from the center. There they were, three giraffe branches, sticking up in the air, pretty much buck-naked except for a fluffy cluster of leaves and smoky foliage at the top of each. It was downright goofy-looking, in spite of the beauty of those leaves -- dark, dark green on the tops, deep, plummy, velvety red on the undersides -- and the blossoms that honestly do look like puffs of smoke.

About three weeks ago, I lopped off the giraffe branches, and the scraggly bush unscraggled itself. In the last week, it's reached a good six feet, plus a few inches, I think. It's fat and full, and the formerly blossomless limbs are becoming a soft cloud of soft, silvery plum. It's also put out shoots at the bottom, making it almost impossible to get the lawnmower up underneath.

So I trimmed back the really rangy branches, and then ducked under and snipped everything green that was less than two feet from the ground. My smoke bush is still fat and sassy, and none the worse for the haircut. I even had some gumption left for deadheading the roses (which were in desperate need of deadheading, I promise you).

[That reminds me -- I need to add self-rising flour to the grocery list. It's a great non-hazmat insecticide. Sift a light coating over the roses in the late morning, and the beetles blow themselves up by evening.]

Then I headed out to the side yard to trim the little tree there. I don't know what this tree is, other than a real piece of work. It's pretty, I'll grant you -- all over white blossoms in the earliest spring, clusters of dark green leaves and red berries later in summer -- and, okay, it's not really that little. I'm pretty sure it tops out over 15 feet already; I know it has a good six-foot radius, at least.

All Ed really wanted was the lowhanging branches trimmed back, especially where they hung over the property line and made life difficult for the back-door neighbor when he mowed. When I got into it, though, I found many of the low branches were dying from lack of sunlight. Additionally, it was sprouting from the bottom, putting up gangly tendrils that wound pale and anemic-looking around the trunk, and the grass was thick between the small growths.

It took me an hour. I made two full circuits, first whacking anything that hung too low or was obviously dead. The second round was in search of sickly limbs that were drawing energy from healthier ones. This wasn't a haircut. It was surgery.

Pruning, for me, is a very right-brained activity. (Okay, I'll admit it: I can make almost anything a right-brained activity. But anything garden-related, especially.) I look, I assess, I snip or whack or pinch. The only words that run through my conscious mind, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, are "good" and "ick" and "out."

After about half an hour, though, the poor left brain is rested up from its stressful, overworked week at the office, and it wakes up. That's when I start thinking about other things. That's when the right brain takes the left brain exploring.

A woman in my writers' group last night read us a poem she'd written about weeding. She put it in the context of herself as conquerer first, but then as alien invader -- like, "Who's the bad guy, really?" I thought of that, and I saw myself snipping and pinching and whacking, and I thought, "Merciless."

Then I thought, "But."

The branches I cut from that tree were sickly. Or they were baked -- dehydrated. Some of them looked scaly, almost crusty, their leaves brown at the edges and thin. Maybe four leaves and one grayish-whitish berry per stem. Farther down the branch would be clusters of greener leaves, pinkish berries, struggling to make more but unable to succeed because the others sucked up their nourishment before it got all the way out, and then pissed it away. Too puny and light-starved to get better, but too greedy to die back.


The tree hangs not so low now. Some of the branches visibly gained altitude the second I cut their dead-weight growth and let it fall. Some I just thinned or trimmed a little, so the inner leaves could get more sun. Amputations were required.

My back hurts now, from all the bending and reaching, and then lifting and stuffing branches into bags, and hauling them to the trash. The tree's revenge, I suppose. That, and the sharp, tangy-harsh smell of the sap on the cut branches, on my hands -- stained pale green when I went inside -- in my hair, clinging inside my nostrils and making me sneeze and then stinking still.

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