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.
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.
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.
March 6, 2008
Earlier this week, the lupine began to grow. Lupine is my favorite wildflower. It is a beautiful blue herald of the spring. A legume, it pulls nitrogen from the air and fixes it in the soil. With an incredibly vigorous taproot, it drills down into the soil like mustard, piercing heavy clay or compacted soils. Even Columella wrote that nothing helps an unvigorous vineyard so much as the planting lupine as a cover crop. We don’t do that so much, it grows wild and the seeds (which are edible, though not appetizing) are expensive. I’d like to, I would love to have a vineyard about to erupt in pale green growth glowing blue with the florescence of lupine, but, alas, nobody i know is willing to spend the $8 a pound for seed. Silly, I say. Stupid, even. But, ah, what can I do? I just sing my song to nobody and everybody at once on the internet in the hopes of seducing somebody somewhere to listen to the ancients and sow lupine in the vineyard. Also, it smells deliciously of pez candy.
The apple trees have begun to bloom in the higher orchards.
And in the warmer pinot vineyards, bud break has begun. That’s right, the pinot has awoken and though the frost might hit again, or the rain might bring mildew, pinot continues to insistently awake before the world is ready.
February 28, 2008
Spring is here, you can feel it in the warmth of the sun after the rains, and everything is aflower: the fruit trees, the acacias, everything smells swollen and fertile. The wildflowers are beginning to glow, the fertile sap of rebirth is coursing, and did you see that goddamn lunar eclipse last Thursday? A full moon, in eclipse, glowing orange on a warm night at the end of February.
The rains quickly followed, I think the final big storm of the season; we’ve had enough, thanks. The little buds on the vine are starting to swell, and did you know Columella used the word “genitali” when speaking of the buds? I like that word better, really, to think of the delicate little buds as the moist little genitals of the vine. They are kind of furry. They’re so fragile now, and while pruning and training the vine to the trellis, it’s easy to knock them off and ruin everything.
The rains ended and it all dried out. We’re pruning still. It’s getting late, I know, but really, the danger of the spring frosts hasn’t yet passed, and though beginning to swell, the genitali haven’t yet burst with growth. Another few weeks of dormancy are left, maybe less. Each little genitali is still aslumber, dreaming of growth and sunlight and growing, dreaming of a primordial forest and a stout oak to grow up.
We came up with our own recipe for a biodynamic pruning wound paste. In includes benotonite and horsetail, and on each of the pruning wounds we paint a thin layer of white goopy goo to prevent eutypa infection.
I’m a little worried about the redwing blackbird. I just haven’t seen that many this year. and I wonder why, if they’re alright, or I’m just not tuned into their call as much as I used to be. They’re one of those birds common both from my childhood in Iowa and out here in California. In a way, I think of the redwing as a bird which accompanied me out here, and maybe there’s just some redwing blackbird party somewhere else and they’re all getting laid or something. That’s probably it. No need to worry.
Tonight I am drinking a bit of applejack, in honor of john chapman, a true American Dionysos, and my dog is asleep at my feet. Tomorrow the sun will rise again and we’ll be deep in the mustard fields of slumbering grapevines whose genitali are just beginning to stir.
November 18, 2007
Friday around 2:30, I was trying to finish my day early, to get my weekend started maybe with a cold beer at my favorite bar and dinner made. It’s been a busy week in the vineyard, tying up little odds and ends like erosion control and cleaning up. I was getting time cards signed when one of the dudes brings to me a beautiful snowy egret with a badly broken wing.
I’m kind of a bird geek. Not super bad to the point of, you know, walking around with binoculars or whatever, but I paint pictures of birds sometimes, like the oil painting up top there, and have always found the snowy and the great white egrets to be maybe the most noble and beautiful wild creatures to look at. To see it injured but still alert and somewhat angry, to hold it in my hands and feel the soft feathers, I knew I had to do everything I could to help it.
So there I was, an angry snowy egret in my hands, my curious puppy getting a little to close to its dagger-like beak, a few guys laughing, wanting to wring its neck, and 411 on the phone, trying to find the wildlife rescue center. I transferred the egret to a 30-gallon bucket I’d been using to dynamize some compost, covered it with my jacket, and carried the dog and the bird to my truck and headed north to Santa Rosa.
There’s always heavy afternoon traffic, and the puppy kept sniffing at the bird, who was trying to get free. I looked over and the bird had poked its long neck out the bucket and was looking around, kind of confused. So I’ve got the puppy under one leg, the egret held at bay with my cowboy hat, the wildlife people trying to give me directions, and I’m on a busy 2 lane road getting lost.
When I got there, I heard what I’d feared, that the break was bad enough that they’d have to put him down. I was an hour from home, deflated and crashing from the adrenaline and the sun was setting. I still had to finish my timecards, feed my dog, and relax just a little bit after a long week working in the vineyards.