Harmonicas and Virgins
At the end of every harvest I’m as changed as the color of the hardwood trees in New England. Every trace of any capacity I once held to bring any enterprise to fruition has been spent, and I’m ready to fall. Ready to spin out over the graying and blustery landscape, to blow scuddering along the windy sidewalks and boulevards, to lie in moldering layers against the side of a garage, or the base of a retaining wall below the neighbor’s garden. To feed the hungry ground as I am deconstructed, and composted, beneath the sleepy rain afternoons of slow winter. To fade, into my own parade, as the tambourines mark the slow passage of unseen seasons. There’s a way this work has brought me, synchronized me, again and again into the rhythms of the Ancient World, and in attempting to return to my “normal” life in 21st century Berkeley, when the last grapes have been pressed into barrel, and tucked away for their long slumber, I feel bereft, and torn by the transition. It occurred to me that there are surely rituals to mark and to facilitate this transition, since I feel such a keen yearning for some such ritual, and also that there must be other winemakers who feel that same sense of loss and yearning every bit as keenly, in their own ways.
One thing I noticed during the last days of September, and the first days of October, when there was only the Syrah from Bassetti Vineyard left to be picked, (and my body had already decided that the goal had been reached; I could “smell the barn”) was a longing for cooler weather, for the wind to blow the leaves off the apricot tree in the yard, for “Mare’s Tails” to appear in the Northern and Western skies (portents of change in the weather, according to lore). What we got, instead, for several weeks, was hot weather. And when I actually drove down to Bassetti to drop off bins, I could feel some part of me protesting: “What are you doing? We already went through this!” There are places in the tropics where, if grapes are planted, they will not go into dormancy; they produce two crops in a year. Where was I? This was the Doldrums, and I found myself having some difficulty getting things done.
As it happens, there were certain heroic stories unfolding in other realms of human endeavor, and it was pretty easy to get my attention. I mean; how about them Red Sox?
And, in keeping with the season, I found myself haunted by the images on my TV screen during the final game of the Boston/St. Louis World Series two nights ago.
The evening was already weighted with considerable drama; the Red Sox were laboring to deliver themselves from the mysterious “Curse of The Bambino,” a curse that seemed to have prevented them, over a span of 86 seasons, from winning the World Series, even when victory seemed to be virtually in hand. And of course the labor this year had been especially gut-wrenching, for having lost three in a row to the mighty Yankees, and for being but three measly outs from being irrevocably vanquished for yet another season. Then, somehow, they’d found it within themselves to mount the greatest comeback in the history of sports to defeat the hated New Yorkers four games in a row, and win the American League pennant. And here they were, this last Wednesday in October, knockin’ on Heaven’s door, just a win away from the Holy Grail.
Then there was the matter of the Eclipse, the kind of event that used to send us humans running for cover, running to the priest or the Shaman, running to the prayer beads, running to the altar with the sacrificial lamb. What kind of mysterious force could be at work that might turn the Moon such a bloody red? I like the idea expressed by one thoughtful person who posited that as an eclipse unfolds “that which has been hidden becomes known.” Curiously the end of this momentous baseball game marked the moment when the Moon began to emerge from the Earth’s shadow.
Now I don’t know about you, but I started getting nervous near the end of the game. A baseball game being played to free Boston from a curse, on a night when there’s a total eclipse of the Moon? I remember watching that ball roll between Bill Buckner’s legs back in ’86. The Curse seemed to be the kind of Murphy’s Law phenomenon that rendered one and all helpless to circumvent it. So a little voice in my head was whispering something like: “Well, maybe if the Red Sox can just get this one under their belts before the eclipse ends, and the moonlight begins to re-emerge, maybe everything will be OK. Funny, they just made it under the wire. And I worried that Foulke might have some fateful mishap trying to get the ball to Mientkevicz, had to hold my breath, then, I confess. (I’m reminded, thinking of it, of the end of “Damn Yankees,” when the hero, whose name I’ve long since forgotten, turns back into his slightly fat, out-of-shape, “normal” self, just as he’s about to catch the fly ball that will defeat the Yankees. And, of course, somehow he catches it, anyway. Also a bit reminiscent of the end-of-the-ball scene in Cinderella.)
But the really haunting image, the one that was still with me Thursday morning, was that of young American soldiers cheering as they watched the game on television from their base in Baghdad, in Iraq. In the land of the Dead where the lines between this world and the next evaporate as suddenly, and as easily as a drop of rain above the vast desert. How hungrily they must have watched the heroes on the beautiful green field at Busch Stadium! How lovingly they hung on each pitch in the game that drew each of them back into their own lives, so recently left behind, all they’d come from, all they’d loved, all that loved them so. The game they’d grown up playing, and watching, in which time itself is suspended, and the world without time is poured, drop by delicious drop, into their souls, like some lovely wine, direct from the Elysian fields. How exhilarating the moment, when the ball left Foulke’s right hand, and floated to safety in Mientkevicz’ glove! How quiet, how quiet it became when the cheering stopped. How suddenly the lines come back into focus. The Dead, cheering for the living, always…
I received a lovely postcard the other day from my colleague, and friend, Randall Grahm, of Bonny Doon Vineyards. Randall’s very young and utterly charming little girl is shown reaching for a balloon that is just beyond her grasp. The balloon is the Earth, it’s ribbon just above her outstretched fingers. On the flipside the message is simple: “Don’t Give Up! PLEASE VOTE!” How lucky for us that Tuesday November 2nd, Election Day, is also the Day of the Dead. And they’re cheering for us, they really are. And there are so many of them!
As someone once said: Don’t Look Back