Pruning Time

Why do we practice Shibari — even in a pandemic?

Bita von Seil



The last time I was tied up with rope was in Texas at a rope class and jam in a private home before the pandemic turned such homes into fortresses. My rigger was a young man who had learned rope through a local rope group, and via online videos. We were guided through the arm-free chest harness being demonstrated that evening by two lovely young women in the cramped living room full of people, plants, and bookshelves packed with books on Buddhism, bondage, and laden with tchotchkes reflecting the international flair of the hosts. Then we went onto the back deck and tested the tie on the suspension points rigged up over the wooden porch.

No shit there I was. Upside down and twirling in the Texas humidity, legs loosely tied just to get them off the ground, ropes everywhere; beams overhead dripping from the rains that drenched the city just hours before.

I was back in the wild west of my militant youth, hovering over an abyss of an unknown future. Suspension of all activity — rope or otherwise — ensued shortly thereafter. All my meticulously laid plans for the next few months suddenly hurled aside, like a coup of nature.

I can’t say much about the American rope scene, as that was my only encounter so far. The diverse, queer, tattooed, friendly, funky, highly educated and interesting crowd that evening made me feel right at home — like meeting the cousins you never knew you had and recognizing the familial ties of the greater World Rope Family.

That was the last time I felt ropes upon my body. That one evening amounts to 50% of my experience for the year 2020 (the other half being the one jam I attended in Berlin in February). One small night was proportionally huge for me.

I have since been staying with my family on a farm in rural Pennsylvania during the lockdown, watching the plants bloom and the gardens come alive. I am surrounded by flower beds, vegetable gardens, orchards, and vineyards. Of the most famous styles of gardening — rambling English cottage gardens; beautifully ornate French gardens; or the peaceful, Zen-inspired gardens of Japan — the gardening style I see here leans towards the French tradition. Neatly arranged and thought-out beds, not as extreme as the Japanese style with their…