Thursday, January 12, 2012

Reflections on Life, Death, and Renewal Pruning

The snowdrops are early this year.

This week I attended the wake of my brother-in-law's grandmother, who passed away at the advanced age of 99. It was one of the nicest wakes I've been to because her life was celebrated. Family and friends told stories and caught up with each other. It got me thinking.

As the snowdrops pop out of the ground with the recent warm weather I am reminded of resilience. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) manufacture their own antifreeze. We're due to get snow and below freezing temperatures, but they'll be just fine. Plants are tough buggers. They want to survive and many go to extraordinary lengths to do so. Remember that tree with a phone wire growing through it? We've all seen one.

Perhaps because we work with living things that gardeners may have a different perspective on death. We've all killed a plant, many times for no discernible reason. Many of us compost, seeing firsthand the wonder of dead plant material transform into nutrients for the living. Perhaps since we've had our share of loss, I see the ending of life as a natural state. We don't have children because after several miscarriages, we decided we had given it our best shot and stopped. I went on a lot of walks on my lunch hours during that time and I really began to stop and take notice. I really do smell the roses. And the witchhazel, sweet bay magnolia, violets and the bruised foliage of spicebush. Why? Because it's a feast for the senses. They are living, growing things of such beauty that by soaking it in, I, in turn am renewed.

Speaking of renewal, I am reminded of pruning, the art of cutting away. We often use two terms when we refer to pruning - rejuvenation and renewal. To rejuvenate a shrub you cut all of it back to within a few inches of the soil. Some plants thrive when you prune this way and others so resent it that they die. Renewal pruning is where you thin a plant by about a third, again cutting the branches at the base. This allows sprightly new growth, opens up the structure, and shapes the plant.

I could have come up with a list of resolutions for 2012. However, I think instead I will do a bit of renewal pruning. What kind of clutter can I cut away to open up my life and allow for new growth?  

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