I went down to my dad’s old place outside Ramona last weekend, where we have been trying to grow grapes to make wine. The grapes growing part has been very successful with massive, pendulous clusters of deep-blue, lustrous grapes hanging from thick Syrah vines.
The winemaking, by contrast, has been a complete failure. This year, it seemed to be doing well, it was passable, decent vin ordinaire. But we don’t know why, it turned. The whole 70-gallon barrel had gone bad. Other barrels were dumped in a transportation mishap.
But half the satisfaction is in tending the vines, and it is the time of year when the vines should be dormant. So they can be pruned. The main trunk of the vine – I spoke to one of them as I was pruning, ‘Ah look at that big boy’ – comes up and splits into four main branches, two on each side of the plant running in opposite directions along a wire.
Off those branches are shoots that grow at times 15 feet and from which clumps of grapes hang down, generally one or two to a shoot. The pruning requires each dormant shoot be trimmed down to two knuckles, from which the new shoots emerge and from them the tiny clusters of grapes form.
The season did not turn cold that long ago and we should still be well in winter. In the last years, we have pruned in February and been in time. But here it was mid-January, and I honestly had to look twice, because I didn’t believe it. Small white tufts of new shoots were already emerging.
The vines had decided spring was in the air. And if I waited much longer at all, the sap would be rising in them. And then trying to prune the shoots is a form of mayhem, with the life-giving liquid dripping rapidly from every cut.
But, as if to confirm beyond any doubt, I saw that the daffodils were in glorious bloom all over the farm, big clusters of their bright green stalks and leaves topped by lovely, fragile, yellow blossoms that will shortly wither and be gone. My dad did a photo story on “les jonquilles,” as they are called in France, about young people riding on their bikes to fields outside Paris, to gather bouquets.
It is a rite of Spring. I realized later that is a rite in much of Europe. A famous traditional song in Denmark talks about gathering the new flowers as part of a time for falling in love.
On my way back from the farm, driving in the gathering darkness along the 15 freeway, I pulled off just north of Lake Elsinore where Highway 74 crosses above, just before the freeway drops into a long canyon along a river bed, running up into Corona. A partial eclipse had been predicted for that night and I wanted to check it out.
The 74 east runs into desert darkness almost right away. I pulled over and got out to see if there was any sign of the earth’s shadow encroaching on the moon. I saw a huge low moon softened by thin clouds, little more than mist, across its face and around it, the gossamer clouds lit white.
The moon was slightly less than round, but I could not tell if it was the edge of the earth’s shadow that was coming into one side, or if the moon just wasn’t yet full.
But as I looked at the moon, sitting fat and bright above a black undulating ridge line, I said to myself, out loud, with a renewed sense of amazement, “God, the earth is beautiful.”
I didn’t need to see an eclipse. The moon and, on a clearer night, the stars are a wondrous cosmic event that we ignore just about every day of the year.
And all that brought me back to the politics of the day. The earth is warming, I could see the evidence at the farm, as if all the world’s scientists were not sufficiently convincing.
And that is what cannot be forgiven of the president and his legions on the right. It is entirely understandable that the economic dislocation of the last three decades would create a vast pool of anger directed at the government and the ruling financial class.
But why would they take it out on mother nature.