A beaver ate one of my vines, then he ate four more

Two years ago I planted a vineyard in East Texas, about an hour’s drive from my house. Cultivating a vineyard is hard work (basic agriculture), but it’s cathartic. Next year I’ll harvest Blanc du Bois, Tempranillo, and Black Spanish grapes.

Grapevines are vulnerable to many things—insects, disease, mold, mildew, aphids, small animals, and birds—but I had not considered the havoc a beaver can wreak on a vineyard. Birds and small animals eat the grapes but ignore the plant. But in less than a minute, a beaver can chew through the trunk of the vine (about six inches from the ground) and everything above the chew-point dies. The plant lives (because the roots remain intact) but it’s back to ground zero relative to growth and grape production.

One weekend I went to the vineyard and noticed that one vine had been compromised by the local beaver. The first solution I considered involved lead, but then I’d be arrested by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

I came back two weeks later and Mr. Beaver had chewed through four more vines. Now he’s compromised five vines, about ten percent of the vineyard. That weekend I installed plastic grow-tubes on all the vines, which took care of the problem.

But what I’ve been thinking about is this: after I noticed the first beaver-eaten vine, why didn’t I realize he would inevitably eat more and why didn’t I take preventive measures that very day? Why did I wait two weeks before I took action? What character flaw in me caused the problem, how did it develop, what other areas of my life has it affected, and how can I change so that it doesn’t plague me the rest of my life?

So, this minor life-event has become a learning opportunity. 

It didn’t take me much thought to notice how this weakness has played out in other areas of my life. Several years ago my car was running rough but instead of taking it immediately to a mechanic, I put it off several months and, of course, the problem got worse. My house needs to be painted but I’ve put it off for so long that now some of the wood trim is rotting. 

The first thing I considered was, procrastination. But I don’t think that’s the prime issue because I’m basically a get-it-done person and pride myself on doing things sooner rather than later. I don’t think procrastination is the core problem.

I’ve thought about this for about two months, prior to writing this post. So far, here is my analysis.

The issue of not dealing with the car running rough and my house needing to be painted, I traced to a downside to being frugal. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I grew up in a very poor family and frugality was a necessary survival technique. Through the years it has served me well—I’m a good money-manager—but it also has its downsides—postponing needed repairs because I’m reluctant to spend the money. [Note to self: change that inclination.]

But that diagnosis doesn’t explain my slowness in protecting the vines from beavers. I already had the grow-tubes so money wasn’t an issue and it only took two hours to install them, so time wasn’t a factor.

I’m still searching for the core reason I allowed Mr. Beaver to get the best of me.

The purpose of this post is not to bore you with the details of my vineyard or the idiosyncrasies of my struggles. What I want to illuminate is this: becoming self-aware is a life-long quest. I’m 67 years old and I’m just now gaining clarity on this nuance of my life; I wish I had seen it sooner.

Know this: there are behaviors and patterns in your life that you are unaware of. Some of your idiosyncrasies are positive, others affect you negatively. The key is to identify them and give them their proper place. 

When you do something odd or unproductive in life or when someone else comments on an unattractive behavior in your life, take time to analyze the situation and try to resolve it. 

Constantly pursue self-awareness. 

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Don’t talk excessively about your issues

We all have mental tapes that play over and over in our minds. If they are positive narratives, there’s no major downside other than they’re unnecessarily using up our brain-energy. (Here’s a post I wrote titled An untrained mind–don’t think the same thing twice.) If our mental tapes have a negative or painful storyline they will eventually adversely affect our mind, emotions, and behavior. 

In this post I want to focus on the downsides of verbalizing those redundant stories. It’s one thing to clutter our own minds with these anecdotes.  It’s another thing to clutter our conversations with them. 

Analyze your conversations and notice if you tend to tell the same thing over and again. If so, perhaps you should tidy up your speech; delete the old stories and identify some new ones. Here are some areas to explore.

Pain from the past

I have an acquaintance who continually tells the same story of her struggle to escape from an ultra-fundamentalist family of origin. The first time I heard the story, it was interesting (though it took too long to tell). The second time, not so much. I started overhearing her tell the story in other conversations. Even when she met someone for the first time she would find a way to work the story into the conversation. It seems to have defined her life, and with each telling, the story becomes more deeply engrained in her persona. For those who have heard the story before, the retelling is tedious.

Current challenges

One of the delights and benefits of close relationships is being able to share our joys and struggles with each other. I like the phrase “A sorrow shared with a friend is halved; a joy shared is doubled.” But sometimes we belabor our sharing. 

For instance, it’s not necessary to share the minute details of your medical issues; I certainly want to know what’s going on, but I don’t need to know the dosage of each medication. I truly enjoy hearing about your grandchildren (as I enjoy telling you about mine), but not too much. The trip you took years ago sounds fabulous; can we talk about something else?  

Truncate your stories

Reader’s Digest is an American general-interest family magazine, founded in 1922 and published ten times a year. Until 2009 it was the best-selling consumer magazine in America. It’s known for its concise writing style; all articles are short and to the point. We’ve even developed the phrase “give me the Readers’s Digest version” to indicate when we prefer a brief synopsis.  

In summary, let’s rethink which personal stories should be in our oft-recited repertoire, and when we do share them, let’s make the “Reader’s Digest version” our default setting.  Here’s a post I wrote on succinct communication.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.