Sunday, 21 January 2007

December 2006 - Pruning in the Sun

After what feels like weeks of rain, at last, a dry day, for the winter solstice! The sky is a heavenly blue, without cloud. In the sun, with no wind, it is almost warm: can I find any signs of the turning of the season? I pull on my green boots, and go out to check on the lower garden. Surprisingly the avenue lawn is quite dry. No sign of life yet from the daffodils I planted this autumn around the wildflower meadow, nor from the crocuses of previous years. Just as well, because I should run the mower over them one more time, so their flowers, when they come, are not concealed by rough grass. But soon, soon: Spring will come soon!

Walking back up the Lime alley, the twigs glow scarlet in the low December light against the blue sky. A ravishing sight. The ten foot saplings Susanna and I planted four years ago, brought bare-rooted in a trailer from a nurseryman friend in Clara, are now approaching 18 feet. I realise this is the ideal afternoon to do the job I should have done last year, to ‘raise their skirts’. The lower branches reach out at eye level, threatening injury and partially blocking the paths. They must be cut out now, before the sap rises in Spring, so that the higher branches will make a canopy under which we can walk in years to come. I fetch the pruning shears and the saw and start work. I feel like a butcher as I cut out the stout branches and crossed stems. But the job must be done: the trees will be better for it in years to come. The stumps of branches look untidy and raw, gashed wounds on the silver trunks. I remind myself how important it is to leave a good collar around the stumps: the collar will grow out to seal the wound with bark as the stump of the branch dies and falls away. If I cut through the collar, the tree will struggle to heal the larger wound, and rots and fungi may gain entry to sicken or kill the tree. It is better this way, even though it will look untidy for a while.

The work makes me warm. I take off my fleece, stopping for a moment to enjoy the sunshine. I marvel and give thanks for the wonderful golden light, today of all days, the shortest day of the year. It is a herald, a reminder that in four days time, in St John’s words, ‘the true light that enlightens everyone, is coming into the world’.

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