Friday, August 6, 2010

Vine and Fig Tree

"And everyone 'neath their vine and fig tree
Shall be at peace and unafraid..."

Perhaps these comforting words nudged me towards the row of fig trees along the south wall of the green barn tonight, when I was out working by headlamp with pruning shears. I'd found the break in the electric fence, but decided the repair would be best done in daylight. And the night was pleasant, and my mind was troubled by a disruption earlier in the day.

The fig trees are one of the beings on the farm that truly brings me untarnished joy, a joy that seems to spring from their very sap. This year the new growth is already over 8' tall, spreading fingered sandpapery leaves larger than my hands in elegant alternate patterns along the branches. On many of the stiff, erect stems, fat green immature figs spring jauntily from the base of each leaf where it attaches to the branch, large at the bottom, smaller and smaller up the stalk. The hottest day does not phase them. Insects leave them alone. They don't wilt or sunburn or fall prey to disease. They are pristine, brilliant green, exotic, a dense hedge now along the barn. And as if that weren't enough, they give off a breath of figs: the fragrance of fresh figs, making the very air exotically delicious on a hot summer day. Even on a not-to-warm night, not as humid as it has been most the summer, there is a breath of them when I draw near.

And then there are vines.

The vines referred to in scripture are grapes: THE vine, not A vine. I had the pruning shears in my hand because I'd been snipping wild grape vines off of the electric fences. When Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and you are the branches," did he intend for belief in his doctrine to overtake everything as swiftly as a growing grape vine, and to be as stubbornly hard to kill? Unless I dig these out by the roots, they will spring back again in a matter of days. Living water? I cut a large grape vine one year in early summer, such that the cut trunk bent over towards the grown. Sap flowed from the cut end like a very leaky faucet for a long time, so vigorous was the life force of the plant.

But the vine of concern among the figs this year is the vining milkweed. It's a beautiful vine, with dark leathery heartshaped leaves and small clusters of white flowers. Unlike most milkweeds, it does not have the milky sap (that makes it nicer to prune out when it entangles things). But the pods are large, fat classic milkweed pods filled with silky seedfeathers. Beautiful though it is, it is a strong twining vine that quickly ties everything together in a distorted mess.

My "farm therapy" tonight was to methodically cut and untwine every bit of vine from the figs. At first there just seemed to be a few, but it ended up taking about 45 minutes. Some were so tight around the fig branches that they left indentations. Hundreds of flower clusters gleamed in the light of the headlamp, waiting to become tens of thousands of seeds. I wantonly aborted them, poor un-conceived children. Willfully, but peacefully.

For I am at peace under my fig trees, and unafraid.

Except, perhaps, of the vines.

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