Sweat trickles from the band round my brow into my ears and down my cheek. The back of my hand, as I wipe my face, smells of dirt, more sweat and the oils of well-used, well-kept tools.
Between the leafy branches of this tall, old tree a star-burst of sunlight blinds me momentarily. Perched on the sixth rung of the cherry-picking ladder, where it narrows to barely a foot wide, I struggle to get the blades of the long-armed pruner around a torn limb three feet higher.
Last week’s storm tore branches, leaving some dangling dangerously from strips of peeled bark here in the orchard–a loose term for the asymmetrical collection of fruit and nut trees on this south-facing hillside. All morning, I’ve worked with David and Sena to mend those that can be salvaged. Those that cannot, we prune.
Many of these trees are fifty years old or more. We love them as old friends. From this tart cherry have come pies, jars of lightly sweetened preserved fruit for winter night snacks, and thousands of pounds of dried, pitted cherry raisins for salads and for sweet and savory dishes.
“Oomph!” I grunt involuntarily as I squeeze the handles hard in a long, slow push. They reward me with a clean cut through the branch and a satisfying cheur-ook as the limb drops to the ground, lifting a cloud of dust and leaf mold that makes me sneeze.
Giving my right shoulder a much-needed break, I slip the pruner’s leather thong over a hook on the ladder and turn to scan the vista.
This hillside slopes to a wide, meandering valley where the stream that feeds our few irrigation ditches ambles gently through a winding corridor of native oak, ash and shrubberies.
A red-tailed hawk circles over the recently mown hay field below. Catching the updraft, the hawk spirals lazily higher and higher until I can no longer see so much as a speck in the blue sky above.
My left hand tingles and burns hot with Reiki. Fingers together, I cup my aching right shoulder. The heat flows from my hand and spreads deep into the muscle tissue. The ball joint heats, and the pain in the shoulder subsides. The Reiki heat flows through my body, spreading gently, like warm caramel poured slowly on a flat tin to cool.
There is a peace that comes over me when I am with Reiki. My body seems to expand. I cannot tell, quite, where I stop and the ladder supporting me begins.
If I close my eyes, I feel bigger, as though I have nerve endings extending far from my body, touching the other trees, touching Sena and David, dancing with the molecules of the air.
The birds hush. I smell a wild animal–fur, dust and musky oil. Deer perhaps. But when I open my eyes, I see nothing four legged. Beside me, a leaf spirals into view and lazily down, the air so still I hear the dry edges make contact with its kin already on the ground.
The moment passes. The rounded rungs of the ladder press hard against my back, and I shift. Thirsty, I sling the gourd of water from its hook under the upper rung and take a long, cool drink, glugging greedily. Water spills from my mouth and down my shirt just as a breeze whips through the trees, feathering the dampened cotton against my skin.
I am warm with Reiki heat, cool with Earth’s water and wind. What more can anyone ask? Work that stretches the muscles, strengthens the bones, a clear sky overhead, good friends nearby, and a cool breeze on moist skin. Heaven.