Cutting back.

Making choices.

Trying to imagine the best path forward.

Dealing with whatever is handed to you . . .

Pruning is a lot like living.

I find pruning exceedingly difficult. Deciding which branch should be the "leader," the main trunk, and which should be cut; discerning which shoots are the most promising, and which are less robust; placing lots of hope in just a few buds, and saying goodbye to the rest.

Gazing upon a tree, loppers in my hand, each bare branch is transformed into leaves and flowers and fruit. And, seeing all that potential, it hurts to make the cut--even though I know pruning stimulates new growth. Each straggly cane is laden with luscious berries, and I can hardly bear to sacrifice a single one, even though I know it will help the plant to become stronger and healthier.

Not only does pruning awaken one of my personal weaknesses--perfectionism--but it also asks me to relinquish possibilities. My head spins: What if I pick the wrong branch?

But the alternatives are worse: What if the tree becomes malnourished and spindly? What if the branches break, unable to carry so much fruit? What if the dense foliage blocks out the sun, allowing disease to flourish?

As I pick up my snips and shears and loppers, and put them down again, I've been thinking about the "branches" of our lives: the choices we make, the paths we follow, the things we let go of, the shoots that fall to the ground, as we stretch forward, less encumbered. The truth is: We can't keep all the branches. We can't take all the paths.

In my forties now, I find I am happy with the choices I've made, and I am grateful that I love my work, with both words and food. But I also still wonder about, and wrestle with, those branches that were pruned.

I'm truly enjoying my re-engagement with academia as an editor--though it does cause me to reflect on my decision to forego becoming a professor. I love the peace and the quiet and the air and the sky here in western Massachusetts, though I miss the energy and the challenge and the vibrant life of the city. And, as an introvert, I deeply appreciate the time I have to myself and my ability to choose how I spend my days, though I know I would have loved being a mother.

All these pruned branches are losses. And I sometimes grieve for what could have been. But, in the end, when I stand back and look at the "tree" of my life, I think it's turned out pretty good--strong structure, nourished roots, fruitful branches, lots of light . . .

And who knows what the next season will bring?