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between-our-steps-05-16-18-doubleRight now, before trees and vines leaf out, we can see their structure. Soon, the covering of leaves will mask the framework that gives them shape, but for the moment, we can trace the structure.

A tree's trunk can be seen even in mid-summer, if we get close, we can find where the tree is rooted. The whole root system is masked by earth, but we can see the basic pattern, where the major roots spread out to go down into the ground. Standing by a tree I am reminded of the strength that comes from solid roots.

With well trained vines, you can see the initial trunk and the way the main branches spread out with smaller twigs growing from each branch. Ivy grows on a trellis spreading up in the shape of a leaf. In a manicured grape vineyard, the main branch goes up from the root and the stems and the small branches are guided along.

On our farm, it is wild grapes that thrive. As with the trees, in summer leaves become a curtain that hides the structure of the vine. Right now, the cluster of small branches and the strong ropes of the main vines can be seen. The difference is that you can't find the root.

Because these vines grow up the side of the house, clinging to the eavestrough spout, and up the barn foundation gripping the boards, I have to try to keep them under control. The small newest branches are easy to identify. These get pulled off the building and cut or laid on the ground.

But when I come across a main stem growing horizontally, I have no idea which way leads to the root. I can break it, but until the leaves die, I don't know which end heads down.

Wild grape vines create a protective cluster of strong vines and delicate branches. They shoot up from the long grass. They grow along fence rows where earth is buried beneath a meter of rock. I can follow the young vines, work on the rope-like main stems. I can never find the root.

Standing by a tree, I sense the way the tree belongs, how it is rooted in this place. I think about my roots, how I am grounded. Looking at wild grape vines, I see connection. But I also am reminded that we are rooted in community, not just as individuals. Each branch of the vine is connected to the strong stems. There are many, many branches, but they are interconnected, and somewhere these ropes of vine reach back to the root.

As individuals, we are aware of the need to be grounded. But there are also communities we belong to, groups of people with whom we share purpose and work. Beyond home, there are abiding connections that give us companionship and co-workers. Vines remind us that we are not just rooted individuals. We are rooted in community.

Looking at these wild grape vines, where you can't tell which way they are going or where they are rooted, I also see chaos. But that isn't a bad thing. I am reminded that community is messy. We can't always sort out who is who. We shift our place and role many times.

Wild grapes also speak to me of endurance and tenacity. They flourish in inhospitable places. They survive every pruning. I won't ever get rid of them. And these chaotic, uncontrollable pants produce fruit that makes a luscious jelly.

And, they are a sign of mystery. As much as we value the way we define ourselves, as important as it is to understand what it is that keeps us rooted, there are also connections that we don't understand, that we don't see, that we cannot control.

We belong in the world in ways that we are sometimes aware of, but often not. We depend on the natural world in ways we take for granted. We use things made by people we will never see. We affect the lives of people we will never meet.

Working with wild grape vines reminds me to accept the chaos and the mystery, all that I cannot control, and let it be.

Cathy Hird lives near Walters Falls.


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