Air Date: Week of May 30, 1997
Since her father’s death a year and a half ago, writer Jane Brox has learned a lot about running her family’s farm in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. This spring it was pruning the apple trees. The task brought her face to face with the wounds of previous seasons, her place on the farm, and the passage of time. Commentator Jane Brox is author of Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family. from Beacon Press.
CURWOOD: Since her father's death a year and a half ago, writer Jane Brox has learned a lot about running her family's farm in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. This spring it was pruning the apple trees. And the task brought her face to face with the wounds of previous seasons, her place on the farm, and the passage of time.
BROX: To prune an apple tree is to see through time. You work with an eye toward how best to shape the branches, not only for this season's growth but the next and the next. Over the years I've seen my father, my brother, and hired men work up and down the rows, making their deliberate cuts, their decisions always a mystery and always daunting to me, since pruning requires not only a sense of the future, but also how to heal over the past with all the wind damage and branches broken under the weight of too many apples. It requires fitting your own ideal with those who've gone before, who've left crazed and crooked shapes behind.
But there's logic and strength in such shapes. That's obvious when high winds come through and the apple branches hardly move, while the oaks clatter and the white pines beyond toss and sway. Now that the care of this farm is a good part my responsibility, I've had no choice but to learn how to take care of the orchard. The knowledge I need isn't in manuals, which only illustrate how to prune a perfectly shaped specimen, one that's met with no accidents or misfortunes. On our farm, each tree presents its own hard-earned problem. So I stand before one after another and try to see into an airy dimension as I make my first tentative cuts.
I'm probably far too hesitant. There are so many trees still to go. At times the rows look endless. Yet for all the repetitive work, this feels like the beginning of a real journey. It's taken me years to come to this place, and I've often been more than a little reluctant to shoulder the responsibilities of a small parcel of rolling coastal plain with all its attendant negotiations and compromises, fragmented ownership, family divisions, and my own dreams of other choices in life.
But if I hadn't taken on such responsibility, would I know those rare moments at all? The ones that step out of time, when my saw falls to my side as I stand underneath the crown of an old Macintosh and I look through the branches of the limb I'm working on, into the clear blue of a lingering afternoon. A moment when it can feel as if there's no past, only belief and possibility amid all this turned grace. Knowing the tough old branches will sprout green, then blossom, after which a long cascade of petals drifts down in the freshening wind, for a moment floating free.
CURWOOD: Commentator Jane Brox is author of Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family.
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