I Don’t Think We’re In Kansas Anymore, Toto
It’s a Friday afternoon in late September. I’m in line at a checkout counter at Longs Drugs, waiting to pay for my tube of sunscreen and 2 large bottles of water, before heading down to Paso Robles, yet again, in the perpetual pursuit of harvest epiphany, when my attention is diverted by the wild tabloid headlines, shouting across the store from an adjacent aisle. The sweepstakes winner this visit was:
FROG BABY BORN TO KANSAS MOM!!!!!
The subhead read: Sleeps In Sink, Eats Flies!!!
How miraculous! As an alternative to the current horrifying spectacle, this is surely a worthy choice! (Perhaps this is where evolution is headed, now that being human seems to have become so dangerous.) I wondered, very briefly, if the New York Times knew about this story. Then I counted my change, and walked out into the parking lot, got into my rental truck, and headed South, never imagining that, before I knew it, the office of a major tabloid would fall victim to the first wave of anthrax mail, and the possibility of the tabloids’ entertaining, non-lethal, parallel universe would collapse, and we’d all end up back in the same boat– panhandlers, bankers, hod-carriers and administrative assistants, busboys and karate teachers, winemakers and frog-babies.
But there were still these grapes, begging for my attention. For us, this year, there were 90 tons of them, half again as many as we’d taken in during any of the previous 7 years. Even in a year with (only) 60 tons of grapes, the harvest has always been, to me, a formidable undertaking. Partly (the obvious part) it’s a tremendous amount of work, much of which is tedious and sometimes physically challenging, which requires so much planning and organization, and endless attention to minute details. At a certain point, that part of the harvest experience also may begin to include a snowballing sense of complete exhaustion.
It’s usually been at about that point that I’ve begun to notice that another side of the harvest experience emerges, one that makes me feel unbelievably lucky to be able to do what I do. Because, at least for me, by that point I almost have the sensation of “giving myself over to the harvest”– of not trying to fight my exhaustion, or the sense of being overwhelmed by how much I have to do. It is overwhelming.
I drove nearly 6,000 miles during the course of this harvest. In one three day stretch alone, I drove over 1,000 miles. I probably walked 40-50 hours through the different fields where our grapes grow, tasting thousands of grapes: first eyeing and feeling the bunches, picking a grape or two, biting into it (them), spitting the seeds into the palm of my hand to examine them for level of ripeness, tasting for ripeness of both sugar and flavor (they’re not the same), spitting out the skins, then (for red grapes) spitting the juice to see how much color the skins had released. (CAUTION: KIDS! DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!!!)
I startled quails, hares, ground squirrels, doves, a bobcat, black-tailed deer, a great blue heron, a cooper’s hawk, scores of blue jays, crows, yellowjackets, dragonflies, leaf-hoppers (no glassy-wings) wild turkeys, field-mice, a king snake, dozens of lizards, stray dogs, meandering cats, and a few chickens. Fought sleep at the wheel of rental trucks and my Toyota van.
Nearly every single bunch in all those 90 tons passed through my hands, as I sorted through the bins, in the process of emptying them into the destemmer (or the press, for whites). As the grapes tumbled out of the bins, some found their way into the pockets of my jeans, or of my T-shirt, or into the T-shirt, or down into my rubber boots. At the end of sorting, my body and face and hair were coated with grape sugar.
During pressing of the reds, in some cases I loaded the wine and skins into the press by bucket, which sometimes involved getting into the fermenter in a pair of shorts to get the last few gallons from the floor of the fermenter, at the end of which, my hands and feet had become dark purple.
Look like Superman, Why …
Though I’m not a Buddhist, I think of my friends who are, who sit through exhaustion and pain, struggling to learn to just be there. Their mantra might be: “Just do your work.” Iris Dement might just say: “Let the mystery be.”Faced with the overwhelming nature of so many accumulated hours of work, of driving, walking, sorting, bucketing, lifting, climbing, pushing, pulling, and so forth, and the accumulation still to come, and the impossibility of approaching it in what we might like to think of as a “normal” manner, meaning: “I’ll take a couple days off and get rested up,” the only option is allowing oneself to enter a different state of consciousness. (You may be noticing how much this might seem to resemble the early days, weeks, months of parenthood; I know the analogy comes into my mind every year.) It’s a state some might dismiss as merely becoming a “zombie.”
But in harvest, it’s also a place where the discreet facts and events that mark the peculiar historical narrative of one persons’ life intersect with the eternal rhythms of the forces of nature, and that is, as used to be proclaimed about Superman: “more powerful than a locomotive!” This is not harvest, this is HARVEST, which, like the comets, keeps coming back. In fact, all this work is a way of trying to contain, or “harness” the energy of an elemental force (in a concrete form). In effect, harnessing and riding a magnificent creature because–well, you only live once… (Becoming a parent, in its own way, brings us to that same kind of intersection, though I think, perhaps, the way that can open ones’ heart is more complex.)
This inclination I felt to give in to being overwhelmed did not come easily, it’s true. On the other hand, it was irresistible. And, I think it helps me to remember, each year at this time, that I have so much for which to be thankful.
So, harvest (HARVEST) is past, once more. In spite of the terrors of 9/11, the wheels roll on, the gods have not abandoned us frail and foolhardy humans. (That doesn’t necessarily mean anybody’s off the hook…) Let there be rejoicing, and much thanks-giving!!!
We’re having our annual Post-Harvest, Pre-Holiday shindig again:
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 9TH, from 12:00 Noon till 5:00pm
at Audubon Cellars, 600 Addison St., Berkeley
We’ll be tasting new releases, a few older things, a couple of previews.
There will be some nice things to munch. We’ll sell some Cds (Lonesome On The Ground), and we’ll raffle off some wine from Steve’s cellar, and a few other prizes, to raise money for the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, which provides grants for teachers in the Berkeley Public Schools, without which there would be no arts programs in the schools. We’ve been significant contributors to this program over the past several years, and we want to continue doing that. In times like these, nurturing this energy in our community seems so important. RSVP: (510) 981-1510 (Don’t forget)
And now, a word from our sponsor:
You can check out our new releases by clicking on “The Wines” at our website: www.edmundsstjohn.com If you find something you’re interested in, give us a call, or an email, and we’ll figure out a way to make it happen. The new releases will be available to taste at the event shown above.
Catch you on the flip side. Merry, merry….