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On Pruning

Today, I volunteered at another local vineyard to help prune some grapevines. I brought my pair of pruners that I found at a yard sale for $5. All they needed was a little cleaning and sharpening, and sanitizing, and they were good to go. Gary, one of my closest friends who works at this particular vineyard, gave me a refresher course in pruning, and I was well on my way. By the end of the day, I had gotten pretty good at it. Most of the day was spent pruning, and training the Seyval Blanc vines that grow there. We listened to cheezy 70’s and 80’s syntho-pop all day in the fields, while the first Black-Hawks of the summer soared overhead in the unseasonably warm air, as we worked through the vines, training the vines in place with green tape after we had finished with pruning each one, to produce a quadrilateral-trellis; four fruiting branches per vine. Some of the vines had grown to become insanely tangled with each other, and it was difficult—but at the same time, it became a very meditative exercise, and my mind began to wander.

Seyval Blanc is a hybrid grape; a cross between American and French grape species, done in the wake of a plague which devastated much of the indigenous grape flora of Europe; the parasite which caused it came from America, so it was thought that by breeding European grapes with American ones, varietals resistant to the disease could be created that had decent wine. Hybrid grapes, however, are generally considered to be less delicious than their full counterparts; generally considered to be a little sweeter, as well. I’ve never tasted a Seyval Blanc. I don’t know much about it, except that it’s white, and that the vines are super vigorous.

So vigorous, in fact, that pruning these vines was difficult in some cases. Pruning is essential to keep a healthy vineyard. In the case of very vigorous vines such as Seyval Blanc, if you do not prune your vines properly, you will end up with what is known as over-cropping. Essentially, what happens is that the vine produces too many grapes, and their overall quality then suffers dramatically. This produces a wine that tastes bad, or at the very least does not taste as good as it should. The grapevines are putting out too much energy, trying to produce tons of mediocre grapes, instead of focusing their energy on a few good fruits.  For grapes, pruning in the early spring means cutting off everything except two buds at the end of the cane; by removing the rest of distractions,  the grapes can develop more full and intense flavor.

As I reached this thought while my mind wandered, being baked by the sun, it occurred to me that Lent is a time for pruning our own minds, souls, and bodies. We prune our hunger, and eat less, thanks to the fast. We should use this time to prune our other aspects, though, as well. The Mind and Soul are prone, of course, to distractions. It is good for us to cut out those things which are distracting and unfruitful, so that what we do bears better fruit, and better wine. It will take some time to learn, but the way that Lent plays out is perfectly suited for such an exercise.

The problem is, of course, that none of us are supremely terribly perfect at it, but that’s why there’s Grace, I think.  (As I joked to someone the other day, I’m still stuck on step one of The Ladder of Divine Ascent because I’m terrified of heights.)