Trailing, draping, curling, twisting tendrils of flowering or fruiting vines—I love them, running riot over fences, arbours or trellises. Just a few streets over from my place is a brick house covered in wisteria. In springtime, the vine fairly explodes with dangling purple blooms. Sometimes I walk by just so that I can stare at it.
Even though I’m not a very hard-working gardener, I love my grapevines for the same reason. They are wonderful to look at through my kitchen window and I love the idea of harvesting something I’ve watched grow all summer and turning it into a usable product I will enjoy all winter.
Unfortunately, my grapes didn’t produce much fruit this year, only enough for about ten bottles of jelly. They need a really good pruning.
On the other hand, my sister-in-law Kim, who lives in another city, enjoyed an unbelievable harvest of grapes this year. And since I couldn’t bear to leave all of it to the raccoons and birds, I took home about seven or eight grocery bags worth, representing probably 60 or more bottles of jelly. I made about 47 before I ran out of energy (and bottles!). I froze the remainder of the prepared juice. I hate waste.
In order to reap such a harvest, Kim followed the advice of a tour guide who works at the family-owned Jost Vineyard in Malagash, Nova Scotia. She explained to Kim that grape vines need a severe pruning every three years, otherwise the vines will become so overgrown and tangled up that they have no energy for producing fruit.
Kim followed her advice. Last fall, she cut her grapevines all the way back until not a bright green leaf was left, just two gnarled brown sticks protruding from the ground.
“Well, that’s it,” she said, worrying that perhaps she had gotten too clipper-happy and killed them.
On the contrary. Fall morphed into winter, winter into spring, and new green shoots appeared. Kim said that every day they would come home from work and see measurable growth. The speed with which the vines covered the deck astounded them.
This September, Kim hit the motherlode. She had never seen so much fruit.
Of course, I can’t help but turn this story into a spiritual object lesson. There have been times in my life when I’ve read these famous words and thought them too harsh: “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)
I’ve experienced hard situations in my life and I wondered if the Father was cutting me off, like a branch that bears no fruit. If I’d known then what growing grapes is really like, I would have known that such harsh pruning is not a sign of rejection: it’s an act of love.
Through the years, I have nurtured thoughts, beliefs and motivations that held me back and made me unfruitful. They were parts of me that needed to be shed in order to become more fruitful and productive. And what brings all those unfruitful attributes to the surface? Difficult circumstances, uncomfortable situations, either of my own making or someone else’s. And when they do surface, I always have a choice. I can allow the cutting away and let the renewing of my mind begin, or I can content myself with being unfruitful.
Not this fall. This huge harvest of grapes required plenty of work: hours and hours of boiling, stirring, straining. Pruny fingers and purple stains and careful measuring, so much that I wondered if it was even worth it. What am I going to do with 47 bottles of grape jelly? But that’s a whole other blog.