Last year was a banner year for olive oil production. We got more than we ever had before, and so did a lot of other people. Since last year was so good, no one had very high expectations for this year, which made this winter a fine time prune the trees.
Olives love to be cut back. In fact, the more you cut off, the more they seem to like it. Our friend Richard, who has taken a course in the care of olive trees and is therefore our guru for all things olive, tells us that olive trees can move more than 30 meters over the course of a century. Frequently when a trunk gets thick or a tree goes too long without tending, the contadino will simply cut down the tree several feet above the ground. A new shoot will shortly grow on the side of the remaining trunk, and that will eventually become the tree. After a time it too will be too old, will be cut down, and will produce another – it’s kind of like looking at yourself in a mirror, in a mirror – the images recede seemingly forever. So too the olives march away from the original tree. (It’s harder to take a picture of this than I imagined.)
Which put me in mind of Macbeth, who was told by an apparition in Act IV Scene i,
Macbeth shall never vanquished be
Until Great Birnam wood to High Dunsinane hill
shall come against him.
I guess if he’d lived in Italy instead of Scotland and Birnam wood was full of olive trees, it really might have arrived finally at High Dunsinane. But it would have taken far longer than the time Macbeth had available.
How bad can an olive get? If left untended they can grow 20 or 30 feet tall. Frequently vines and other opportunistic plants will attack them – though nothing seems to actually kill an olive tree. Here’s a picture of a group of trees up the road from us which haven’t been touched for years, and which are bound up with ivy:
This is what some of our trees look like in their pruned state. Pretty pathetic, isn’t it? But you can see the younger one to the right of the older one in the foreground. It’s on the move! Looks like it’s headed for our neighbor’s property. But he pruned his trees this year, too, so maybe eventually some of his will arrive on our land, and it will be a fair trade.