Might be Nothing but Words
I don’t know where to begin. Now that the rain has retreated, it’s hard to dwell on it anymore, yet I know I felt, more than once, that it might never end, that, thousands of years of history to the contrary notwithstanding, Spring just might not ever arrive this year. The patches of Iris I pass enroute to my neighborhood espresso joint each morning appeared devoid of any life for weeks after the dates they’d bloomed the past several years. About the time the earlier of the two varieties planted there finally began to show signs that it might remember how to produce flowers, the temperatures dropped enough that the plants seemed frozen in time. More weeks went by. Nothing changed.
I remember reading, some years ago, that at the point at which an object is about to be engulfed by a black hole, it appears to become stuck at that threshhold, and never actually disappears, or something like that. It’s a concept I’m not sure I can grasp, but then again, the concept of Spring not arriving is a pretty slippery one, too, come to think of it. Slippery or not, though, it found its way into my thoughts, and didn’t let go too easily.
Part of the reason, I suppose, that I got a little down in the mouth was that, along about mid-March I found myself, on those morning jaunts, for caffeine and croissants, limping badly, and squirming in pain from the sudden emergence of a bulging disc in my low back. I’ve had back issues for a long time; my physical therapist says I’ve got a little scoliosis that I probably had as a kid, and after years of bad mechanics, muscle imbalance, careless lifting, gritting my teeth, and outright denial, it was probably inevitable that things would get gnarly between L5 and S1. And so they did.
In April I made a marketing excursion to New York and Chicago, (with a trip to Baltimore and Charlottesville sandwiched in between) and limped around Manhattan, Brooklyn, Jersey, etc., wondering to myself how long I could go on like this. (Not that I didn’t have a good time; my NY distributor is one of my favorite people in the wine business, and we did some marvelous events while I was there, including a lunch at Daniel that was really wonderful, a truly memorable dinner at Hearth, great apps at Veritas, and sumptious suppin’ at Savoy. You couldn’t beat it with a stick!) Chicago was as great as ever, and it hurt just as bad.
Three weeks, multiple medical appointments, Xrays and MRIs later, I had a cortisone injection, and, at last, the status ain’t so quo no mo’. To say that I feel like a new person wouldn’t be overstating by much. And I find myself wondering, how well do I know this new person? And, as a matter of fact, how well do I know… anything?
Oddly enough, the other day as I got out of my car in the parking lot of our local supermarket, I heard a woman’s voice shouting in my direction, from the window of her car, as she backed from her parking place: “Peter! Peter! Do you live in Berkeley?” Though I at first ignored her, assuming she must be calling to someone else in my vicinity, the hollering persisted, and I realized she really did mean me. Only “me” wasn’t the same me she thought it was…I guess. I stared at her trying to determine if my memory banks registered even the slightest flicker of recognition.
“What?” I called back.
“Do you live in Berkeley?” she shouted.
“Yes,” I offered, with the sound of a question mark in my reply.
“Peter!” she shouted again. “Peter!—it’s me: Annie! It’s Annie!” sure I would recognize her at last.
I gave her a big smile and introduced myself: “I’m Steve Edmunds!”
From the look on her face I don’t think she completely believed me. But she said, as though it had occurred to her at last that it might be true, “You look just like Peter. You look just like him, and you talk just like him, sound just like him, and you even look the same when you walk.” Her companion in the front seat of her car chimed in: “You could be his brother!” There was enough conviction in their words that some part of my brain followed that thought, briefly: do I have a brother I don’t know about? Does Peter? Is there something someone isn’t telling me? Has my body been taken over by someone else? Time to check the basement for pods.
Today, when I passed those Iris plantings I mentioned earlier, the patch with the second variety planted there must have had more than twenty glorious blooms in full display. I’d been aware, before, of how much more vibrant this one variety’s color is than that of the other, but only this year did I realize how profoundly it affected me. I’ve become aware, looking at these flowers over the last dozen Springs, how much I depend on seeing them each year, and yet I probably depend as much on not seeing them when they’re not there, so that the tension between the two states of mind creates a kind of unconscious attunement that becomes a sort of loose form of devotion. I wish I knew the name of this Iris. Its astonishing blue color pierces the protective membrane around the soul, injecting it with pure spirit before it can seal itself up again. (There’s only so much of this kind of thing one can contain.) It would seem I had to watch them for a few years in order to learn to recognize what I was seeing.
Interestingly, I had a similar sort of experience with one of our wines. I knew the Roussanne grapes that we received in 2004 from Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles were quite special, and throughout the process of fermentation and aging in barrel I was increasingly impressed with the depth and persistence of the wines’ aromas, its flavors and textures. Structure-wise, too, it was unusually (for California) sharply-etched and delineated, almost more akin, in some respects, to a wine from Chablis or the Loire. I chalked it up (sorry, couldn’t resist) to the limestone soils, and, as important, to the qualities of the vintage, e.g., a slow, cool ripening that kept acidity strong, and pH low, giving a kind of lean, iron edge to the wine that made the taster’s nervous system stand up and take notice.
All well and good, this wine talk, no? But it makes it too easy, by trying to create a kind of cause and effect narrative, to leave out important stuff. So imagine my surprise, when a couple of weeks ago, I was having a glass of this selfsame Roussanne, and feeling glad for the way it sang to me, from its depths to mine, and I suddenly realized, way down in my bones, that I recognized this song! As a winemaker, I’d first heard it from the Mourvedre I’d vinified from the Brandlin Ranch on Mt. Veeder, back in 1986. It was a wine that prompted Francois Peyraud, from Domaine Tempier in Bandol, to whisper “la Terre parle,” when he tasted it in February of 1987. Here was that song again, in a different voice, of course, but unmistakable, nonetheless. How many times had I probably missed it over the years, having gotten so caught up in the business of trying to explain what may truly be inexplicable, if not, in some way, unknowable, at least by words?
This remembering, in a time when what’s remembered begins to look different than one remembers, is great comfort, beyond words.