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Thumbs up, thankfully, to another successful pruning season

Pruning is over in my 1,000-vine vineyard and, after what almost happened on May Day, the personal highlight is still having my left thumb.

I started at 7 a.m. and it was late afternoon as I snipped with the right hand and tore last year’s canes off the trellis wire with the left when my thumb ended up inside the jaws of the razor-sharp pruning shears. I will never forget that feeling of steel on bone.

Instantly, I dropped the tool, grabbed my left hand, and began loping down the hill for the house. I won’t keep you hanging: I escaped with a half-inch-long gash at the base of the thumb! The hardness of the bone had stopped the shears from fully closing, so that little damage was done.

Now, I remark about this so as to note that in all my time pruning grapevines, I have never suffered a serious cut. Yet I think all the time how the odds are piling up against me: 1,000 vines, 50-to-60 cuts per vine, 21 years.

No, I don’t wanna do the math.

For years, when I was younger, pruning left me each day in a state of partial paralysis: the same squeezing motion over and over resulted in muscle spasms in the back, down the arm and through the right hand, making sleep challenging. I eventually figured out, alone in the guest bed so as not to crowd my wife, that positioning my arm at a perfect right angle to my body allowed the over-worked nerves to relax and the on-fire sensation to subside.

These days, I sleep much better. Enlightenment came four seasons ago — squeezing a tennis ball the week before pruning and 10 minutes of full-body stretching exercises before and after pruning each day helps greatly. The muscles go into the season tuned and exercises redistribute the strain, system-wide, across a half-century-old skeleton.

If I keep all my digits, I have hundreds of thousands of cuts left in me.

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