Pruning My Way to Mental Health


Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

About fifteen years ago, we put a chain link fence around a section of our yard. We’d finally gotten ourselves a puppy, and it had taken no time at all for him to convince us that if we didn’t have a fence, we’d have a happy hound dog rambling around the neighborhood chasing every chipmunk in sight.

He was not going to stay in place unless we fenced him in.

So that’s exactly what we did.

It was a good move, puppy-wise, but that fence was less than attractive. I didn’t like the ugly steel look of the fence around what had once been our son’s baseball field.

So I did what any frugal gardeners would do. I looked at what plants were already thriving in our yard, hoping for some transplants. I planted a nice little row of forsythia babies along the fence. They were free. They were super easy to grow. Their deep roots kept the dog from digging out, and the yellow flowers and arching branches of the bushes gave a new level of beauty to our mostly wild yard.

For the first five years or so, I was able to completely ignore the bushes as they grew.

After that, I learned to prune them a bit each early summer, in an effort to keep them from becoming overgrown.

But the dog got older, and eventually crossed that rainbow bridge. The little pups that came after him enjoyed the fenced yard, and the forsythia grew by leaps and bounds.

My back got older, my bones got achier, and the once lovely arches of my forsythia grew through the fence, and sent ever taller branches up toward the sky.

My yard felt increasingly out of control.

This morning I looked out there, and felt my anxiety rising.

EVERYTHING in my life feels out of control these days. Literally everything. This was simply one more item that I could not tame.

For a few minutes, I stood gazing out the window. The news was on, the Sunday morning blathering causing my heartbeat to increase even more.

I couldn’t take it another minute.

I took a deep breath and a long drink of water, then headed outside to the yard. Clippers in hand, I approached the giant row of tangled limbs. I had to tilt my head all the way back just to see the top branches.

I reached into the middle of the first bush, and blindly started to cut. I snipped and pulled and wrangled, piling each chopped branch onto a growing pile.

I was not careful. I was not subtle, or thoughtful, or mindful as I hacked into the wall of tangled green.

My muscles hurt, and my back maintained a steady beat of complaint. But I felt GOOD.

I had taken control. This was MY yard, dammit, and these were MY plants. I could hack them right to the ground if I chose to.

As I clipped and cleared, it occurred to me that I had become the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, faced with a giant wall of overgrown roses and thorns.

Like the Prince in that old classic, I was wielding my sword against an overgrown and thickly tangled mass of vegetation. I felt that I was facing an enemy.

OK, I wasn’t fighting actual thorns, but my arms were definitely getting scratched by the branches. The deeply tangled limbs were doing their best to push me out.

And while I wasn’t in pursuit of a sleeping Princess, I was in search of a sense of empowerment. My Sleeping Beauty was my suddenly dormant sense of control over the key parts of my life.

So I hacked and I slashed and I chopped. I unwound branches from the coils of the fence. I piled more and more branches into the pile of brush that we hope to burn in the winter.

I sweated, and I cursed and I thought, “I am pruning you out of my life, stupid social media posts.” I thought about my constant need to monitor the news as I cut down a giant chunk of wood. “Take that, stupid CNN!” I said it out loud as the huge lump of brush fell at my feet. “Go away, idiot elected officials who think we’re all stupid!”

I may have shouted that last one as I clipped back one twisted limb. I was picturing the image of an actual elected Congressperson using a giant gun to blow up a car labeled “socialism”.

My rage grew as my clippers snipped.

I was panting and furious by the time I stepped back and surveyed the damage.

I felt good.

I felt strong.

I felt vindicated.

I know that next spring there will be no lovely yellow flowers surrounding my fence. I understand that it will take some time for these bushes to reform and reassert themselves along the fenceline.

Just as I know that my mind will soon be crowded once again with the annoying buzz of political lies, endless ‘spin’, self-serving opinions and all the rest.

I don’t care.

For now, my muscles and I feel both exhausted and exhilarated. We have seized control of at least one of our foes. We have asserted our power over one small piece of our chaotic world.

The forsythia will be back, but for now, they must bow to the woman with the clippers.

It might not be much, but it’s enough for me.

3 thoughts on “Pruning My Way to Mental Health

  1. I just finished trimming the front of the yew hedge in front of our house. The back side will have to wait for another day. My body will probably tell me that tomorrow is not that day. Those muscles you were talking about I figure will start screaming about bed time and I will be close to crawling tomorrow. Hope your body is more forgiving.

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    • Mine is currently trading ice for heat and hoping for the best! I know that I’ll be very sore and very stiff for at least two days, but whatever……Going back out there by next weekend!

      Like

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