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As most of the essays in this volume were written in a little bark-covered study that is surrounded on all sides by vineyards, I have thought it not inappropriate for me to go to the vine for a title for the collection. The "leaf" may stand very well for the nature sketches, and the "tendril" may symbolize those other papers in which I have groped my way in some of the great problems, seeking some law or truth to cling to. The tendril is blind, but it is sensitive and outreaching, and aided by the wind, never ceases to feel this way and that for support. Whatever it touches it clings to. One vine will cling to another, or one arm cling to another arm of the same vine. It has no power to select or discriminate -its one overmastering impulse is to cling, no matter to what. Where the tendril strikes the wire, or hooks that sensitive finger around it, how quickly it tightens its hold and winds itself round and round! In time it becomes almost as hard as the wire itself.
I, too, have groped my way more or less blindly in some of the great questions that confront us in this world vineyard, and have clung to what I could find, maybe sometimes only to my own conceits or vague vaticinations.
The vines have other hints for me which I try to
profit by. In the mild winter days, while I am writing in my cabin study, I can hear the sharp "click, click" of Hud's shears as he trims the vines. If I could only trim my vines as heroically as Hud trims his! getting rid of all the old wood possible and leaving only a few young and vigorous shoots.) The great art of grape-growing is severe trimming and high culture, and I suspect the art of literature is about the same. In the vineyard it is not foliage and wood that we are after, but grapes, and in literature verbiage and superfluities are to be kept down for the same reason we want fruit. We have to discipline the vines severely; no riotous living, no kicking up their heels along the wires, the push of their whole life going to wood instead of grapes. At a certain time we pinch or clip the ends of all the fruit-bearing canes, cut the tendrils from the wires, chasten and humble them, and make them pause and consider. And they consider very well, for in a day or two the fruit-bunches swell perceptibly. Then later, in July, we scissor off all extra bunches, covering the ground with them, and so send the whole force of the vine into those that remain.
This is the gospel of the vine-dresser, and I would I could always make it mine when I write my essays.