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A time to prune 

Fifteen years ago, I started clearing land for some apple and peach trees. Deep in the woods, the space I chose is accessible only on foot. The trails leading to it are about four feet wide. The first couple of years, I burned out one chain saw and two lawn mowers. Jacked up to maximum height, the mowers became my bush hogs.

I hauled water in gallon jugs, read up on fertilizers, composting and pest control, and built lots of bonfires. Leaving only the dogwoods and holly bushes, I opened the clearing up to plenty of southern light. Taking out the hardwoods and tulip poplars provided us with plenty of firewood for the winters.

I added blueberry bushes, irises and azaleas to the mix and sprinkled daffodils along the trails. A beekeeper friend nestled a dozen hives nearby to help with pollination. When the kids were born, I stopped spraying the fruit and put up a wooden swing. In time, we played stump tag on the leveled pines. The orchard spot became a mountain-bike destination, a family picnic spot.

One day I was interrupted by law enforcement officers looking for dope fields. They'd spotted my clearing from the air. It had a crazy-quilt look, I guess, because I didn't want the orchard to have a gridlike appearance. Instead, I gave it lots of random curves, clusters of plants and an ever-changing border of overhanging greenery.

Fruit trees will produce more if they're pruned in the dormant, winter season. So recently, on a beautiful sunlit day, I ventured out with freshly sharpened tools to cut back the long branches. These trees had survived Hurricane Fran, last year's ice storms and January's 20-inch snowfall. Walking into the peace and beauty of the orchard, I suddenly realized the trees didn't need me coming along with my Smith and Hawken shears, changing their lives this season. So I just tucked the pruners away and sat among them in quiet wonder.

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