A Capital Pleach

Donald Shephard

I learned a long time ago that a successful project requires a plan including a list of supplies, necessary tools, a timeline, a group of what bureaucrats call “deliverables”, and some kind of feedback or quality control.

My supplies were a pencil, some paper, my Random House Dictionary of the English Language (a large tome), my wife, my donkey, (please note the comma between those two) a cypress tree and my garden on a sunny day. Since I had had difficulty deciding between my wife, Colleen, and my donkey, Threnody, for the “pattee” in this exercise, I opted to try both.

I put the dictionary in a pannier on the donkey’s back and, strolling around our garden, we stopped under the cypress tree. I patted my wife nineteen times and then she kissed me. The mourning doves cooed in the branches above, the quail called out their name from the bushes, and a flicker laughed like a loon.

I multiplied the number of pats by one hundred and we turned to the appropriate page in the dictionary on the back of the donkey. The letter Z ends at page 1664 so we were into the “Basic Manual of Style”. The eleventh row was on “Capitalization”.

You probably know you capitalize recognized geographic names; The Sierra Nevadas? But did you know you should capitalize Butte, Range, and Plateau when they follow a single proper name and are written in the singular. You should capitalize Hill and Mountain in the singular and plural when they follow proper names. You should capitalize Mount and Peak in the singular whether placed before or after the name and in the plural when they come before a name and sometimes following a singular name.

Isn’t English a fun language? Did you know all that obtuse stuff? We did not either. Who could ever remember all those rules? What is the difference between a mount and a mountain; a hill and a peak; a butte and a plateau? Let alone the obscure rule for each.

I said, “Phooey on it.” Patting my wife was much more enjoyable. I led her back under the cool shade and patted her behind the cypress tree. It was heavy patting. We withdrew discretely into the gully that is my secret garden because Threnody had been watching us with apparent interest.

Later on, I repeated the exercise using the donkey. Threnody responded after eleven pats by walking behind the tree and down into the gully. I grabbed the dictionary from the donkey’s sashaying ass and ran back to the house.

Page eleven hundred, line eleven, gave me the verb pleach which means to intertwine branches, vines etc. as for a hedge or arbor: it also means to braid hair.

When I was a boy, I helped pleach the hawthorn hedges around the fields of farms in my home county of Essex in England. It is done as piece work in the winter months. We used this billyhook, some wooden stakes and pegs, a sturdy pair of gloves, and two or three gunny sacks. We would cut a notch in the stem of a hawthorn plant at about cow-head height, bend it down at an angle, and weave it between successive stems until it reached the ground. If there was a gap we would drive in a stake in place of the missing hawthorn stem. I do not now remember the purpose of the pegs. If, or rather, when it rained, we sat on a gunny sack with our backs in the hedge and another sack over our head and shoulders until the shower passed. I learned a great deal in this unhurried manner.

Pleaching makes an economical, stock-proof fence. Now, before you give me feedback on my deliverables, I am going to pleach a hedge around my cypress tree to keep that damn donkey out of my secret garden.

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