I once had the opportunity to meet (Apple) Dan Miller, an Amish neighbor of my Dad. He told me that years ago Dad had complained to him that his apple trees looked beautiful but weren’t producing any apples. Known far and wide for his apples, (Apple) Dan told my Dad to go home, grab a hammer and give his trees a severe beating around the trunk. He said they needed to have something wake them up – that life had been too easy and they needed a challenge to come alive. While this seemed counter to the careful fertilizing, watering and nurturing my Dad had been giving his prized trees, he trusted the wisdom of his Amish neighbor.
The next year the trees produced so heavily that Dad saw branches breaking under the weight of the massive number of apples. With a little research I now find that this is not an uncommon approach. Want more crepe myrtle blooms? Pull branches down almost to the breaking point, then let them snap back into place. We know that roses, if left to themselves, will grow foliage but few roses. The best way to get them to produce what they are designed to do is to cut them back severely annually and shovel down to cut off growing roots.
With a little research I found this from an old farmer’s almanac:
“The easiest way to make a fruit tree bear more fruit sounds a little crazy but it works. The tree must feel like it is under attack, and therefore needs to produce some seeds so the species will carry on after it dies. Sounds crazy, I know, but if you have any kind of fruit tree that is not bearing very much year after year, then try this simple solution. Trees are living things and have learned how to survive and carry on through difficult times. They adapt to situations, if they possibly can. All you have to do for an unproductive fruit tree to bear more fruit is to stimulate the reproductive hormones. Do this by whacking the side of its trunk six to eight times with a sturdy baseball bat. This will not hurt the tree.”
Is there a lesson in this for us? Is it to our benefit that we seek to avoid any kind of challenge? Does a job loss, business failure or home foreclosure “kill” us – or do those very beatings hold within them the potential to make us stronger and more productive? Do we shrink back into safety or can that challenge wake up the very best we have to offer?
As parents, how do we bring out the best in our children? Henry David Thoreau said: “I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.”
Every day I hear from people who have been given all the advantages – prestigious university degrees, fine homes, cars and positions. And they suspect the easy life they’ve been given is keeping them from the challenge of adventure that would release the best version of themselves.
Are you taking the “safe” route in life to avoid the stresses and challenges that are trying to release your biggest harvest?
And no, you probably don’t need to go find someone to beat you or to create a stressful situation in your life. I know that in mine, those things have just shown up consistently. But I hope I’m getting smarter in seeing “What does this make possible?”