September 15, 2009
Though male, Dionysos was always somewhere in-between the sexes. He was raised by women and worshipped by women; his religion was suppressed probably because it was run by women. In the Bacchae by Euripides, Pentheus is told by Bacchus to dress as a woman to learn the secrets of his worship, and it’s likely that the giant dildos his worshippers carried around might have been used by his male worshippers in a practical sense. Though bearded, he was effeminate, and like a lot of great Greek men, stories were told of his bisexuality.
In a lot of ways, he’s like the grape flower: with both male and female parts. The grapevine is able to self pollinate, something I’m glad to be incapable of doing.
It reminds me that we are all somewhere in-between. It makes me think of my newest vineyard employee: a transvestite man from Mexico, young and strong and gay with painted fingernails, earrings, a swish in his walk and an ability to outwork any of the macho men with moustaches who joke and laugh but cannot keep up. Jose Antonio: I like that dude. I like that he is willing to put up with a few jokes because he is who he is and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it. He could hide who he is, but he doesn’t, and he doesn’t care what they say, and besides, some of theose moustachioed men probably come knocking on his door late at night, lonely and hungry for his soft embrace. He does good work and sings to himself love songs and I would love to have a whole crew of transvestites, just so long as they’re Mexican and can sing.
When last I wrote on this here blog thing, I had found myself suddenly unemployed, alone in a haunted house, not knowing anyone in Oregon who could tell me where to find a new job. Within three weeks, with the buds swelling and ready to burst in the vineyard, I’d found myself a good job with a good company run by a smart and knowledgeable man. I am a vineyard manager again, of over 200 acres of dry-farmed, own-rooted, and sustainably-farmed Pinot Noir, Gris and Blanc in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. It is beautiful, and I am grateful.
Since then it’s been a flurry of work and of life. I bought chickens and now eat their eggs. I planted tomatoes and now eat their fruit. My dog and I have dispatched two delicious deer. I have loved and been loved. The vines awoke, burst forth with green life, and now the fruit hangs heavy in purple and rose, sweetening, ripening, yearning for its seeds to be born aloft in the belly of a bird and deposited beneath an oak tree somewhere good and rich and warm.
Also: I bought a fiddle, and am learning to play. I sit on my porch and I imagine myself an old man, drunk and happy and teaching a granddaughter how to play Sally Goodin.
8 years ago, I was in New York City. I had just moved to that goddamn place to give it a go: I was in love, trying to be an artist and a writer and a doer of good things. On the morning of September 11, 2001 I rode my bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan, stopping on the bridge to look at the skyline and contemplate things.
A year later I was picking grapes in France, and now I am entering my eighth grape harvest, having reinvented myself and become a professional in my field.
When the towers fell I made for myself a 15 year plan to buy myself a piece of land to farm wine. I probably had my boxing gloves with me that day, with a plan to go spend my afternoon fighting people for fun at one of a couple of gyms in Brooklyn or Manhattan. Things changed after that, and I began to dream of a peaceful life devoted to the art and poetry of making something true like wine for and by myself.
I am alone tonight in a 200 year old rented farmhouse, my faithful pup Sancho asleep at my feet. I am in-between having a dream and realizing it. I am going to be 35 soon: In-between old and young.
We are all in-between something, always and forever and that’s alright.
April 17, 2009
Out here in the country, every few weeks around 3:00 in the morning, the coyotes come around and howl from the forest line, singing out their hunger. My dog, who might be part coyote, goes crazy, running in circles and barking at all the windows. For a while, I thought it was that he might be like Buck in the Call of the Wild, and maybe just wanted get in touch with his inner beast, maybe get himself some sexy coyote tail. But that’s just romanticizing things, I suppose. Really, he wants to drive them away, because their songs are a reminder that the world is vicious and mean and if you’re weak, you’re food, and then you’re shit, and then you’re nothing.
I should have listened to the songs. The ancient Greeks called the foretelling of events in the flights of birds orinthomancy, and I believe we can see important warning signs in the workings of nature. Like, the smoke from all those forest fires last summer in California that turned the sky green and the noonday sun blood red: those signs that made my coworkers make the sign of the cross and mutter about el apocolypto: those signs made me take a vacation to the green hills of Oregon that led to my eventual transplant here. I drove north and introduced myself to various tasting rooms. I met good people and was offered a job as the Production Manager at an historic vineyard and winery, whose wines are delicious, whose vines are ungrafted and tended to organically, with care and concern. They are good people and I moved here as soon as I could, arriving just ahead of the worst snowstorm in 40 years. They took me out to dinner on Christmas Eve, had me over for their annual New Year’s party.
I should have paid attention to the signs. The snow, the coyotes: I should have saved more. I would listen to NPR and hear news about unemployment figures, about the tanking of the economy and I would feel comfortable and smug, knowing that I had a good job, was paid well-enough. I got to work before anybody and stayed longer than everybody, usually, and I don’t know a lot about the world, but I always figured that you work hard and do good work, you’re safe, right? I threw myself into my work, ignored the signs, and calmed down my dog when the coyotes sang. I made plans to buy sheep, for crissakes.
This morning, lying down with a cup of hot coffee, getting ready for another day unemployed and frustrated, my dog, bored and wanting to go to the vineyard and kill gophers and deer, crawled up and went to sit on my chest and insist that we leave. Instead, the little fucker sat square down onto my mug of hot coffee and scalded his hairy dog asshole, jumping up, getting coffee everywhere, scared and upset and confused as to why I’d treat him so raw.
I knew exactly how he felt. That’s how it was to learn after a long week of working hard and well that the economy being what it is, which is crap, those projects for which I was brought on aren’t going to be done, and that I’d quit a good job and moved my ass to where I knew nobody for a job that was effectively over, thanks.
Life, I suppose, will turn around: there’s horsetail pushing up again in the ditches that had been sprayed with herbicides, and the cherry trees are in blossom. The vines will wake up again and need somebody like me: a guy who knows how to sing to and tickle a grapevine so that the grapes blush deep with promise and love.
My dog keeps licking his ass, whining, and I understand. In a way, by writing about my layoff, I guess I’m licking my wounds as well. I’m just scalded a little bit.
November 15, 2008
(This video is only partially ironic)
So, I stopped writing on this site for a while. It’s just that I’ve been so very thirsty. I’ve written about this before, and I don’t mean to complain, but I found myself uninspired by the work I was doing. The months slipped past and never once did I get a chance to try a sip of wine from the grapes that I’d grown. I would work with vines and try to help them to grow well and balanced, but what become of their fruit was a frustrating mystery to me. I might as well have been growing fucking sugar beets.
I had decided for a few reasons that I wanted to change things, to leave where I lived or to find a new job or something. Even thirsty, it’s not that I didn’t enjoy the work, it’s more that I didn’t like everything a guy’s got to put up with in order to do the work.
I think I’ll be able to put my finger on it after I’ve gone, but there’s something toxic in the air here in big-money California wine valleys. Maybe it’s that many of the fortunes behind the castles along Highway 12 or the Silverado trail were so newly minted or maybe not acquired by fully legal means. Or perhaps it’s that wine itself, as a perceived status symbol, attracts those sorts of people who value the price of an object more than anything. I think also that there’s a huge separation of wealth between the classes, and that the chasm allows for a certain abuse. I also think that there’s an unhealed injury on the collective psyche of the American soul, and that for various reasons, it expresses itself in California in ways I don’t really appreciate.
I could be wrong, I don’t know, but whatever it is, it just seems like I’ve had to put up with a whole lot of assholes ever since I moved here. I feel like a lot of the times people wouldn’t be speaking directly to me, but using a conversation with me as a vehicle to exorcise some demon, or to redirect an abuse that they’d suffered beforehand. I feel like a lot of the people I’ve worked with over the years used the workplace as a place to do act out an operatic, deeply emotional theatre. I just wanted to work and learn and get along, but I found myself deeply enmeshed in the personal problems and mental health issues of my coworkers.
In the meantime, I stuck to myself and when I got the chance, drove with my dog and my tent northwards, towards Oregon, where I’d heard the hills stay green, the vines grow happily, and the state parks allow dogs. Also, did you know there’s no sales tax and you’re not allowed to pump your own gas? It’s crazy!
Cedar burns aromatically in a campfire, like incense.
I knocked on winery doors and had a taste. I talked to people, asked around, and just wanted to see what it was like up there. I liked it. The air was cooler. I was lucky. The very winery I was most interested in had been looking for an assistant winemaker type person or a year or more without luck. It turned out that the owners and winemakers were a very nice family, well-read and polite, and they’d love to have me back up again for a few days to see if we got along.
I went back to Caliornia and finished the grape harvest, harvesting grapes I didn’t spend a lot of time growing, while the grapes that I had were harvested by somebody else. I worked a bit in a winery, but because the fruit came in maybe 40% lighter this year, they didn’t much need a part time afternoon kind of guy. I finished the certification process for 100 acres of biodynamic grapes, a 3 year process that I’d started and have now finished, my horns well-buried, my pixie-dust dusted. I went back up to Oregon and found out that it was true, we liked each other quite a bit and found working together and enjoyable way to spend some time. It didn’t seem like they were the sorts of people to act out a psychodrama at work. I liked the town, the people, and the cool feel and damp taste to the air. The leaves were turning orange and red. The bookstores and brew pubs seemed like home.
I took the job and went back to California and gave my 2 week notice the day after Obama got elected. I’ll be a production manager/assistant winemaker/vineyard person at a wonderful place with a long history, older vines, and oh yeah, I forgot, great wine, amazing wine, wine that they open for you and graciously ask you what you think.
Now, my last day is next Tuesday and afterwards I’ve got three weeks to pack and move my life. I’ll be starting all over up in Oregon, not knowing a soul but for my dog, and a family that’s not mine.
But have you looked at the cost of land in Oregon? It’s not so bad, really. It’s nowhere near as unrealistic as California. It makes a young farm lad believe that maybe by determination and the strength of his back he might someday win a piece of land he could call his own.
I spent last weekend at a sheep school.
I heard that there’s a whole of people who play music I like in Portland.
Listen, the monsters and dragons I’ve had to deal with weren’t so mighty, really. It hasn’t been anything I couldn’t cope with. I’m not much for faith in the almighty, nor in an eternal life, but I do think that if you go looking and striving to find a way back to the Shire, you’ll find it, somehow.
I’m still in love with the farm I don’t own and haven’t seen. I think that I might be coming closer to it by moving up north where the rain falls.
June 11, 2008
I re-planted a fancy vineyard today.
Last night, as I was driving up the hill to see my fiddler friend, I saw a fawn, nursing beneath its mother. They were in the middle of the road, and I scared them dumb as I braked. They looked at me and hopped off. Last night, after the deer and after the fiddling, I stayed up too late, those fiddlers, they do that, they make you talk about your feelings and the air was clear and the Sirius was out, so today I woke up tired and sad, and already kind of defeated.
Planting a vineyard is supposed to be some sort of spiritual endeavor, but it’s grim and hard labor. I guess on one of the mountain vineyards I take care of, before it was a vineyard, before it was some hippy nudist colony, it was a back-to-the-land spiritual cultish thing, where wealthy people seeking something would pay good money to plant a grapevine themselves. What a beautiful con job that was, as good as Tom Sawyer’s whitewashing the fence, because the planting of a vineyard is just a whole lot of sweat and dust and bullshit.
The shovel, at a certain velocity sparks, it flames when it hits a big rock, and if you don’t know how to let go of the shovel at the last minute, you’ll feel the rock lightning down to your spine and into the soles of your feet.
Now, I don’t know how much you know about him, I can’t be sure how in tune you are with the cosmic macho powers of the universe, but listen, nobody is more macho than Julio Cesar Chavez. Nobody. I remember hearing that for one of his biggest fights, maybe the one with Hector “Macho” Camacho, he didn’t really traditionally train or spar or anything, he just dug fencepost holes around his rancho.
He punished “Macho” Camacho, Mr. 41-0 with 18 KOs, that little puto with his fancy assed hair and his clown pants, and went home to his ranch, like it was nothing as hard as a hard day working under the sun like a real man, digging holes in the unforgiving earth.
It was like 4 years ago when I got my first 9 hours of planting a vineyard, of breaking shovels and rocks, and I understood. I take pride in that I get the respect of my coworkers for being a gabaacho who works in the fields as hard as they do. It’s unheard of. They don’t understand. I just tell them that I’m from Iowa, and that we’re different.
The killdeer is in the plover family of birds and is smart and pretty and I just love em. Today, in the face of my crew of 2 tractors and maybe 50 men with shovels and picks, a mated pair of killdeer sang a beautiful warning song and defended their four spotted eggs laid in the bare dust of a recently laid out vineyard.
We taped off the rows and wouldn’t let the tractor through. We warned all the guys, but we had to go close to the nest, you know, we had to work. The two retreated in our presence, singing loud raucous warning songs, beautiful really, and there we were, a bunch of dirty macho cowboys, each of us keeping an eye on all of us, protecting their four, fragile eggs from one another.
I think they made it. I think it’ll be alright. They seemed like they’d be good parents.
I didn’t bring Sancho with me to work this morning. It was maybe 90 degrees in the boring sun, and he doesn’t really care for it when I just have to stand and slowly work all day. He gets bored and he gets hot, and just sits under a tree and looks at me, like, “is this really what you want us to do with our lives? Really?”
So I didn’t bring him to work, and he insisted on a long walk in the woods when I got home, I was all at once thirsty and hungry and smelly and dirty and I still had work to do, but after a quick shower, a cold beer in my pocket, I took him out. As we got to the woods, and I should tell you- it’s an urban woodland, you know, it’s a abnormally low, and once a bit more proud but now polluted and urban creek in the working class part of town. But in the creek, (Sonoma Creek), strangely, and I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it, I saw that a lone salmon had made it all the way up the creek from the bay and expired here, a few blocks from my house. Had it made it? Did it find another and spawn? I guess I wish I was a bit more optimistic. The scene made me sad deep down, you know? Like even though I braked so as not to not kill the doe and the fawn, even though I made sure nobody fucked with the killdeer eggs, I didn’t really do enough. The salmon are leaving the earth, you know? And I love the taste of lox. I love my spicy salmon sushi rolls. The whole thing was really kind of my fault.
Also, the deer, the killdeer, and the salmon, they all kind of looked at me accusingly, like my coworkers do when we talk about having kids, seeming to ask me why I’m fucking around, why not just leave it in one night and make some kids? I don’t even know what to say anymore.
Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was a beautiful, 17 year old , migrant, and pregnant vineyard worker, who died last month before her boyfriend could give her the gold ring he’d saved up for. They were both from a small little village in Oaxaca. Their manager wouldn’t give them enough time to go and get water on a day that was 95 degrees out. She died in the dust, in her boyfriend’s arms in a vineyard in California.
It was a Wednesday.
May 23, 2008
I must apologize, I’m deeply sorry. I’ve been really busy growing a beard, eating tacos, and nursing a bruised-up heart following a rather depressing breakup. I was sick for a while. There was a major frost. Then it was unbearably hot. I kept working, cold or hot, shivering or sweating, bummed out and lost in my own little world. The grapes kept growing and now, you should know, the whole world smells lovely as the grapevine flowers open up. It’s my favorite time of the year, at least in terms of smells, since all the vineyards are bathed in a heady aroma of springtime loveliness.
There was a point in my little depression where I hit the nadir. Sick, I’d lost my voice and had a fever for a week. I lost what little weight I’d spent a few years in the gym to gain. My birthday came around and I spent it alone, after working 12 hours in 105 degree weather. But then, I dunno, I got bored with feeling blue and a song welled up in my chest. Hank Williams, you drunk fucker, you popped out of nowhere one day while I was checking petioles or spraying some biodynamic bullshit, and there I was, singing about heartbreak at the top of my lungs, echoing off the walls of the mountains around me. Sure, I can’t really sing well, but it doesn’t matter. A grapevine requires song.
Many people with advanced viticultural degrees will have a lot of things one should do in order to grow good grapes. Things like deficit irrigation, or advanced canopy management, or limiting crop load. Hey, I won’t disagree. But I think that probably more important than any of those things, at least in terms of creating a truly sublime wine full of life-force and I dunno, truth, is that the grapevines need to be sung to by those who work with them.
Most of the guys I work with, in fact pretty much all of them, came here to California from Mexico. They’re macho cowboys who miss their women and children back home, and will often burst into song like a bird. A bird with a moustache. They carry little transistor radios with them to listen to their corridos and accordion-heavy love songs. For the first few years, I couldn’t stand the music, but as my ability to understand the words grew, I came to love the music. I mean, who the hell else can sing a happy song about suffering, about begging a lost lover on your knees to take you back.
This is the music that is played to the vines as they’re planted, as they’re care for, and as their fruit becomes wine. This is the music that’s infused into the wine that you drink . Songs of heartache and longing, of being an unloved migrant far from home, far from family. But a vine needs a song, and I’ll tell you why:
A little ancient history:
Some 220 million years ago, there were no flowers. There were no birds. There was no song. And then, a meteor struck the Earth.
Dinosaurs became birds, and:
plants learned to flower.
Plants began to seduce animals with aroma and fruit to propogate and evolve their species. Animals began to take to the air, migrating along with the seasons, singing songs of heartache and longing.
Within a short time, maybe just 100 million years, flowering plants ruled the earth, and the grapevine that we treasure had become widespread around the globe. Besides the meteor, the triumph of the grapevine was mediated by the power of song. Without those songs of heartbreak and longing, a grapevine won’t fully ripen its grapes, and you, the consumer in wherever you are –let’s say its New York– won’t have that sublime experience that you’re looking for. Your meal very much depends upon the willingness and desire of grown and macho men to burst into song like a bird. Keep that in mind. If the wine tastes good, it’s because a grown man with a heavy heart lightened his load by singing a happy song about loneliness and heartache.
As a vineyard manager, I take this responsibility as seriously as any other. I understand that if a man doesn’t have a song in his heart about to burst out, he won’t do the quality work that is needed to produce a quality wine. One of the guys I work with, his name is Albino, he was a professional mariachi back home. He played the Tololoche, a bass, and he’ll sing at least once a day. He’s a total badass.
And now, if you’ll forgive me, I’ve got beer to drink and tacos to eat. There’s a banjo within reach that needs playing. There’s songs to sing. Enjoy the wine, you assholes: those complex flavors you’re tasting: they cost me a rather lovely girlfriend.
April 10, 2008
I’m just some kid from Iowa whose boots are tied together with wire and whose dog got into rat poison yesterday.
But tonight, for your pleasure, I’m speaking at the Berkeley Ecology Center regarding the Light Brown Apple Moth.
It’s a rare ovcasion when somebody asks my opinion.
My life’s been a little turbulent the last few weeks, unravelling faster than I can weave, and so I really didn’t prepare anything to say. I’m thinking of titling my little lecture,
“LBAM: Not that big of a deal,” or:
“California: is a bunch of bullshit”
I don’t even know how these Berkeleyites got ahold of my name. I’m actually nervous. I won’t have time to clean myself up, and I’m dirty and need a shave and smell as I am: a slightly hungover, stressed-out, kind-of-broke, bachelor farmer who sweated a lot today. My ears are somewhat hairy.
One of my Mexican mentors at work gave me some good advice today. He asked, “y te pones nervioso cuando lo vas a meter?” (Do you get nervous before you stick it in?)
“Pues, es igual.”
March 22, 2008
Monday was March 17th, a date celebrated in Ancient Rome as Liberalia. Liber was the name of an early Roman version of Dionysos, a God of Fertility and of wine. The day was like a Bar Mitzvah for young Roman lads, and afterwards– after the procession of giant phallus symbols, the public drunkenness and whatever it was that they did– they would switch their boy’s toga with its effeminate purple sash for an all-white grown man’s toga, and could vote and do pretty much whatever they wanted, I guess.
On Tuesday I saw my first spring barn Swallow, returned from his winter sojourn, flying about the barn. It is a beautiful bird, the swallow, and has been married to mankind since we first began to build structures. I mean, jeesh, Virgil wrote about them like 2,000 years ago flyinga bout the rafters of the roof.
Wednesday, was the Spring Equinox and as the earth was briefly balanced at 10:48 pm, the winter died and the spring began. Persephone returned to Demeter. It was sunny and warm and we’ve almost very nearly finished our pruning for the seasons, and have already begun mowing down and disking in our cover crops.
On Thursday, we disinterred a batch of biodynamic horn compost- those the cowshit-filled horns we buried on the fall equinox. We unearthed some wine we’d buried alongside them and drank the two bottles, some 12 or 15 of us thirsty vineyard workers in the shade of a fig tree just beginning to glow green with the spring’s new growth. in place of the horn compost we placed a crushed quartz-filled horn and another bottle to drink in another 6 months. Covered by soil, I danced my version of a Mexican hat dance over the site, and went back to work.
And today, on Friday, I did it all again at another vineyard, but this time I was filmed by a TV crew, and I was miked and interviewed, and directed to do silly things for the sake of telling a story, and will someday, in like 6 or 8 months, be seen by those who watch “In Wine Country” (on the Bay Area’s NBC 11) and I will become instantly, incredibly, and annoyingly famous. I will be blogged about by Perez Hilton. I will be seen stumbling out of clubs with my vagina hanging out. I will finally, finally be recognized while pissing in a bar.
It is a full moon tonight, and I really ought not to drink as much wine as I’m about to drink. As the last good Friday before all my anonymity is stripped away from me, I’ll enjoy it by myself, relaxing in the silence before the helicopters descend to capture me embracing whatever starlet’s career could best be furthered by being seen with the likes of me, the famous Winefarmer. Probably Natalie Portman, I hope she speaks kindly of me to the press after we break up. I hope, I hope I don’t accidentally lose that tape we made drunkenly screwing each other. I’m sorry for that Natalie. I’m sorry for everything.