The Vine Keeper

Everyday, come rain or shine, a man takes a walk around a vineyard. He walks slowly, carefully, his eyes continually scanning the vines. As he moves along the rows, his hands raised, he gently brushes the dark green leaves. Every now and then the man stops. Carefully, he reaches into the vine and takes hold of a bunch of grapes, his gnarled, sun bleached hands caressing the delicate fruit. A smile comes across his weathered face. The lines at the corner of eyes deepen as he looks around at all the other bunches near by. Fat, juice filled grapes hang heavy on every vine… except one. The man loosens his grip and leaves the grapes to continue growing. As he moves toward the vine that caught his attention, his eyes carefully assessing the situation, he sees something that causes him great concern. Slowly, the man drops to his knees. Getting close the ground, he examines the trunk of the vine. Digging just below the surface, he discovers what he expected all along. This vine, which for many years had been vigorous and fruitful, producing many, many grapes, was now dying. Its roots were withered up and its ability to drink deeply from the earth had gone.

As the man knelt there in the dirt, his mind was filled with many memories. It was as if this was the only vine in his vineyard. He remembered the day it was planted. He recalled how he had to hand water the fragile new root stock, almost willing it to survive. He fondly remembered the day that the first leaves appeared, and the time when frost almost killed it. He remembered the day when all the new vines were finally tall enough to be tied down to the trellis wire, and how bare they looked after their first pruning. As he recalled all this, the man felt a heaviness in his heart.

The vine keeper knew what had to be done. Even though this vine still had green leaves, its fruit was small, dry and bitter. Sure, it could continue to be a nice vine… but it was no longer a fruit bearing plant, and the reality is that a fruitless vine has no place in a vineyard. The man’s attention shifted back to the vine. Slowly, he reached his hand around to his back and pulled his lopping saw from its sheath. He opened the blade and placed the sharp teeth against the trunk, as low to the ground as possible. He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then let it out. As he did, he pulled the saw toward him. Its teeth cut into the dying vine as if it was butter. The man continued to cut, push-pull, push-pull… until eventually the teeth of the saw broke through the bark on the other side.

It wasn’t long before the season began to change, and long after all the grapes had been harvested, the leaves on all the vines began to turn red and yellow. Soon after that they fell to the ground, piling up in golden rows along the fence. Autumn gave way to winter. The cold, long days passed slowly and not much happened in the vineyard. Winter storms came and went, soaking the ground and causing the grass to grow thick and green. But every day, the man who owned the vineyard walked among the vines… watching, looking, waiting.

Ever so slowly, the grey winter was overtaken by the brilliant colors of spring. The fruit trees blossomed and the clover covered the ground like a carpet. Magpies started rebuilding their nests and the flying ants began to appear in the warm of the late afternoon sun. Everything was coming to life again. New growth appeared everywhere… but not on the vines. They hung on the trellis wire, pale and bare. Soon the vine keeper would come with his loppers and his pruning shears, cutting back last seasons growth, thinning each vine of all but the two strongest branches. These he would tie to the trellis wire, secure and safe from the strong easterly winds. The branches that got cut off were collected into large piles between the rows of vines and burnt, their ash being returned to the ground.

At last the pruning was done, and the man paused to look over his vineyard. He carefully scanned the rows of vines, looking at each one. Once again a smile crept across his face. It was a smile of satisfaction, of a job well done, and the man took great delight in the work of his hands. As he gazed over the vines in front of him, his eye once again fell on a certain spot. He made his way over to the spot and crouched down to take a closer look. There in the ground, in the very same place where he had kneeled in the dirt almost a year ago, was a new vine. It had only been planted a few days previously and already it had a new shoot. The man smiled to himself and spoke to the young vine, in a soft low voice that could hardly be heard. He reached out his hand and touched the tender shoot and for a brief moment, time stood still.

After a while, he straightened his back, drew a deep breath of the fresh spring air, and continued his walk through his vineyard… just as he did every day.

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