I’m kneeling on wet sawdust, under a gray winter sky in Washington’s Puget Sound. It’s early afternoon, the kids are at school, and I am looking at an overgrown—currently leafless—blueberry bush, trying to decide where to start cutting. Branches cross at haphazard angles and twiggy old wood dominates the plant. As I focus on the task in front of me, the world narrows to this single plant, one of 1,577 on the farm.
Here’s what I know about blueberries: if we do this right, following the extension-agency bulletins and instructional videos we’ve obsessed over for weeks, the plant will be stronger, healthier, more productive.
Here’s what I don’t know about blueberries: pretty much everything else.
This is the first one I will prune, in the first year since Stacy and I bought the little blueberry farm. I can’t pull the trigger. I’m not even sure where to start, and the thought of cutting away berry-producing branches is daunting. It’s not easy removing live wood. When I look up, four inches of heavy snow (snow!) cover the ground. Stacy’s already halfway down her row, pruning away with steady, efficient cuts.
I stare at the tangled branches, mind wandering. In a remarkable convergence of luck, I have just recently sold my first book to a publisher. The manuscript came back from a New York editor looking like a Crayola test pattern. My defenses flew up as I scanned (and ignored) the editor’s positive comments, latching on to her more critical suggestions. From the depths of obstinacy, I viewed her red marks as a lack of understanding about how we Left Coasters actually talk and think. To say I dug in my heels would be charitable.
But here’s what I know about books: geographic differences aside, the book will be stronger, healthier, more readable, if I can cut away the dead wood.
Even so, I’ve been having a hard time hitting the delete button. It’s not easy removing live words.
I study the blueberry bush again, and finally, with snow piling up and 1,576 plants to go, I reach in with the pruning shears and make a cut. The branch falls to the ground. That wasn’t so bad. I snip another one. And another. And suddenly, I can see it—the plant looks better. Air can circulate through the center, next summer’s berries won’t drag weak limbs to the ground, new shoots will have space to grow.
I have to hurry. The kids will be home soon, and we need time for snowball fights and snow angels, hot baths and warm dinners, long bedtime stories. Then, when the house is quiet and everyone else is asleep, it will be time to edit. I think I’m ready.
Dylan Tomine, formerly a fly fishing guide, is a writer, conservation advocate, blueberry farmer, and father, not necessarily in that order. He is the author of Closer To The Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table, published in October by Patagonia Books.