Monday, March 24, 2014

Straight Rows, Crooked Branches

I heard it from the orchardman. He said it’s a rule of thumb. Green thumb in his case. I know. I saw his orchard.

He said, “Stand here on this mound.”

So I stood on the rise of the dirt road I’d just been traveling down before this sight caught my eye.

“Now gaze out over the trees.” He continued. “See those rows? Straight as, well, straight as the rows of trees in an orchard ought to be.”

“Well, yeah, I see ‘em. It’s one of the things that caught my eye in the first place. The tidy rows. But what really caught my eye…the reason I pulled out my camera in the first place was because of the contrast. It’s a stunningly beautiful vision.”

“The contrast? You mean the straight rows beneath crooked branches?


“I’m kinda tickled you noticed that. I’d like to believe maybe I’ve learned a little about how to live a happy and contented life by the way I’ve learned to tend this orchard.”

“How do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, see, a well-maintained orchard is planted in straight rows. That’s done so’s it’s easier to measure a fella’s progress as he makes his way through the orchard several times a year, first tending to the pruning, again to spray, to more easily keep the grass mowed between the rows all Summer, and finally, when it’s picking time.

But just as a good orchard has straight rows of trees, it’s only the crooked branches that bear the fruit. The straight ones – the “suckers” --are what are pruned away so’s they don’t compete for the tree’s energy.

Straight rows, crooked branches.

And that pattern continues on after the picking. Once the fruit is picked, it’s a hurry-up to get it to market. To do so, we don’t waste any time. We take the most direct route – the straight roads. The rails. Shortest distance between two points, y’know?

But the tending and the mowing and especially the picking will have been hard and demanding work. And nothing makes me a whole lot happier after I’m done delivering the fruit than taking the long way home. The river road that meanders a good ten miles out of my way. Maybe it’s still warm. Maybe the windows in the truck are rolled down. Maybe I don’t turn on the radio, but just listen to the sounds passing by and the crunch of my tires on gravel. There’s a whole lot of joy and contentment in such a drive down a winding road. It’s the rows and branches again. Straight to market to keep life on track. And the crooked road home to enjoy the fruits of the labor.

Same deal with truth and lies, I say. No, really. There’s a good time for both of ‘em in a happy and contented life. I figure I just have to determine which is the best time for either. I have to figure out which times to be straight and which times to be crooked. It’s just rows and branches again.

And, heck, it’s not that hard. I figure it falls pretty much along the lines of straight dealings and crooked tales. Deal the truth at exactly the times you expect it to be reciprocated – cutting contracts, selling stuff, commitments. The rows.

But, to be honest, a well-told lie makes for the very best tales. Sometimes it takes a good lie to tell the truth. Sometimes a fiction is the only way to make us drop our guard – our defenses -- and laugh at ourselves. And God knows, we need to laugh at ourselves. It’s how we ripen the humility that maybe makes us the kind of folks others can take joy in. Maybe, anyway. At least that’s how I see it.

Straight rows and crooked branches. That’s pretty much life in an orchard.”

I said my goodbye to the orchardman, took one last look over the orchard – the straight rows and crooked branches – hopped back in my truck and pulled away. I watched the orchardman disappear in my rearview mirror. I took the winding road the rest of the way home. I had some things to think about.