911 COMES CALLING (I’ll Take Any Good News I Can Find)
The air went out of everything pretty fast last Tuesday, and it doesn’t give me a good feeling, this harvest that came in. Now it’s hard to keep my mind on this work, this winemaking.
Local sports talk show man, Gary Radnich, (for whom I have a lot of respect because he never seems to forget that he’s a human being, and that life is so much more complicated than sports radio) was talking to a baseball pundit about Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. It was almost 7am. I’d just gotten a triple espresso from the Peet’s store near the winery, in west Berkeley. They were using my favorite coffee this day: Arabian Mocha Java. Gary was about to sign off for the hourly news, when he abruptly mentioned in a voice laden with consternation that the report of a plane hitting the World Trade Center, in New York, was now confirmed.
I was almost to the winery driveway, on my way to use our rental truck to drive to Durell vineyard to pick up the first-ever grapes from a small new block of Syrah. I quickly switched the radio station to the all-news channel. In just seconds the world had begun to really come apart. We all know the details, of course. But before I’d switched stations, there was still the possibility to imagine that it was merely a terrible accident. To be able to think “oh, how horrible,” and yet still to think that, after awhile, everything will be ok. Now that possibility has collapsed, like a tall building, hit by a jet plane.
As I drove toward Sonoma, and the reports continued to become more and more nightmarish, I looked out at the beautiful coastal hills of Marin and Sonoma Counties, and the lovely, rugged mountains separating Napa and Sonoma Valleys, and remarked to myself on their more “permanent” nature in contrast to the extraordinary vanishing of buildings that had played out moments before in Manhattan. We try so hard, I think, in these moments when certainty is snatched out from under us, and we’re plunged into a very deep sense of chaos, to find some ground on which to stand, some perspective that offers a chance, any chance, of something to latch onto, some way to break the fall. This brief glimpse of hope, this thought of permanence, was quickly blown apart by remembering my time in a single engine airplane, just the day before, flying back from Paso Robles (where I’d gone, of course, to check in on wine grapes still hanging at Rozet Vineyard.) over the Santa Cruz mountains, and, after gazing fondly at the fabled vineyards of that area’s “Chaine d’Or,” I was brought up short by the sight of a neighboring mountain that had been largely cut open and removed (a source of gravel for Kaiser-Permanente). What remained was like a disfigured corpse, a desecrated pile of rubble that had once been the nesting-place for a multitude of life. I registered my horror to the pilot, who didn’t miss a beat: “You know, you can’t even see that, unless you fly over it. Nobody even knows it’s there.” How can it be that airplanes so suddenly seem to hold the key to the way the world looks, and feels to us? To what’s important, to what begs for our attention?
Something has blown a hole through the walls of the universe. What may pass through that hole, now, either toward us or away from us, would seem to depend on what we can imagine, on what we can find in ourselves, in the deepest places. If imagining brings us only to the notion of violence in retaliation, nothing changes, and our imaginations have failed us. A war on terrorism is a war on drugs, is a war on poverty, is a war on, in all likelihood, dark-skinned people who live in ruinous circumstances. We’ve already done that. As Rudolph Giuliani said in New York a few days ago, “that’s how we got where we are now.”
I was aware, from the moment I’d first heard the reports, of feeling keenly the fact that I was alone, and had no one with whom to share the impact of this calamitous news,and that I’d seldom had greater longing for human contact, particularly that of my family and friends. It was great to see the people at the vineyard when I arrived, and to speak, however briefly, with Ned Hill and Rafael, just to say hello. But I wanted to hear Cornelia’s voice, to see my children and grandchildren. To find out about Cornelia’s nephew in Manhattan, and about our friends there. Our friends at Windows On The World, where I’d poured wine in March, on the 106th floor, a place in the air now, where even birds might not venture anytime soon.
I’ve been receiving some pretty compelling email over the past few days, from friends wrestling with the same feelings that have shaken me. Peter Hoffman, from Savoy restaurant in SoHo (north of WTC, and east) forwarded part of a column from a Toronto writer, which included a statement that commanded my attention: There is a fundamental principle of Vedic philosophy (Hinduism) that asks one to examine, when confronted with adversity, what one “owns” in it. And if the West had some role in creating this force, perhaps it can do something to uncreate it.” (Here, I’d say, we are asked to imagine that there are neither accidents, nor “innocents,” that we are part of anything that troubles us, and we are called upon to “own” the part we’ve played, before there can be any movement in the direction of wholeness. I find it all too easy to imagine that for every terrorist that might be killed in a “war between good and evil” that five more would rise to take his place.) What I find encouraging in this email, is the sense that an urgent, strong conversation is beginning, one that really needs to happen.
There are sirens everywhere. Wednesday night I went to Tilden Park to walk, to try to let the wind and the fog, the sunset and the birds soothe me. I parked at Inspiration Point and walked slowly, amidst runners, bicyclists, dogwalkers, out to a bench, a mile or so up the trail, where I could sit and look out toward the Bay. It was getting dark from the onrushing fog. The wind was strong. It felt cleansing and calming. Then the sirens started, off to my left. Grizzly Peak? Wildcat Canyon? They seemed, after several moments, to subside. Then, quite suddenly they started again, much louder, much closer. Then I could see, coming up the trail behind me, two emergency vehicles, lights flashing. They raced by. Then, moments later, three more! I saw a bicyclist say something to the driver of the last vehicle, and point toward the west, in the direction of the far end of the trail, some 3 and one half miles further out. When I started back, I passed him, and asked if he knew what had happened. His friend, practicing “skills” on a mountain bike, had gone down, and landed on his head, was unconscious, seemed to have injured his neck. It sounded bad. I expressed my hope and good wishes for his friend, and headed home, pinning my hopes on another day, and whispering thanks that there might be one.