Monday, October 24, 2005

Night pick

My harvest is over now.
Well…at least the part where I’m out in the vineyards brining in the grapes. The wine’s still being fermented, and that part won’t be completed for another month or two.

My final night pick was last week, early Wednesday morning to be exact. Conditions were perfect. Earlier in the night the moon was out & full, with some maritime layer clouds floating across to form a low ceiling which silenced everything but the most ardent crickets. The air temperature was 57°F, and dew point was 55°F. That overcast layer was going to keep it just warm enough for the fruit to remain dry, and I could begin picking.

It’s a shock when the alarm first goes off for me to get up, usually I’m quietly swearing to myself about the idiot who set that alarm (yes, that would be me) while trying not to awaken Mrs. Johnson by stumbling over a chair, or shoes, or what-have-you while getting dressed in the dark. After I’ve made it into the kitchen and a pot of coffee is underway, things begin to brighten up a bit while I mentally go over my plan of attack: what end of the vineyard I’d wanted to start at, which rows should be picked separately, where the neighbors houses were (this is important!), whom among them might be awake at this hour of the morning, where the trucks were that would haul the fruit to the wineries, how many of the pickers would/wouldn’t be on time, if all the needed gates are open, picking bins on site, trucks fueled up, etc. For the record, I’ve set all this down in my mind or attended to each of these long before that cup of coffee, but it’s always best to recall the details & step through what I want to do just prior to going out…

After the coffee I’m heading out of the house. I grab a thermos and fill it for later in the morning, then hop in the car.

It’s really odd. In the last forty to fifty years this county’s seen all sorts of growth. Some days you’d almost think you were in the South San Francisco with all the traffic, and how houses have sprung up on the ridges and hillsides all around. But not at 2 AM. The place is forsaken by all in favor of sleep… it's quite lovely in it's lonliness...

It’s not a matter of being misanthropic, on the contrary I’m quite gregarious. But it all becomes clear to me when I’m out in the vineyards in those early mornings – especially when the overcast layer is hanging above us. The silence out here is nearly deafening. Most houses are totally dark. Maybe one or two cars cross you path while you drive, either they’re others with missions like yours or some unlucky sots who have to commute to the city every day.

And so you arrive in your secluded vineyard site, with the crickets, frogs, and occasional owl flying over you - and your thermos of coffee. Time to have a second cup while I look over the equipment that’s staged for this little show of ours.

Nobody’s there yet, and that’s not a problem – I routinely show up 45 min to an hour early to make sure everything’s where it should be. When I’m satisfied, I can start to relax and really take in the vineyards at night. The soft light reflected off the clouds hanging overhead casts a somewhat eerie effect, but I’m not about to turn on the work lights until absolutely needed.

The silence is gorgeous! Nothing but Nature to be heard…
Yes there’s the occasional car on the road near the vineyard, but it’s probably those poor commuters trying to make good time into SF.

The screech of an owl, soft crickets chirping, and a few obsessed frogs in the small creek off to the left of the vineyard. Otherwise nothing.

Everyone else would be arriving soon, and I revel in my last opportunity to soak up the solitude.

Eventually, a few cars are approaching. The pickers are arriving, followed by the drivers to haul the fruit, etc. I get myself ready for the interlopers of my silent vigil, say a short prayer that everyone remains safe and sound, climb onto the tractor, insert the key, and break the spell by turning over the engine…

…and see the first light at a neighbor’s house go on…


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