Rewards of the Harvest

We are what we create and I have proof of this on my 2011 desk calendar–an oil painting called Rewards of the Harvest, symbolizing gratitude, abundance and Thanksgiving. 

Rewards of the Harvest was originally mouthpainted by Mark Sotak, an artist, who paints only with his mouth.  It is clear to me, that Sotak is not his disability, he is, however the beauty he created on the white canvas and the perseverance, hope, productivity and love he manifested in his work. 

Mark Sotak painting in his studio below.

The painting (which I wish I could show you) is of a table centerpiece with bright orange pumpkins and persimmons, deep green gourds and clusters of purple grapes, a candle lit lamp glowing over the fruit, a brown basket with red apples in it and lavender flowers placed in a painted sunflower pot.  It represents the abundance of a good harvest. 

We are not painters, but we are small time wine makers of Nicolas Alexander wine and we had our own harvest yesterday.  We not only gathered over a ton of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes which will produce over 46 cases of Nicolas Alexander 2011 Meritage wine, but we did so with the help of close family and good friends gathering together to celebrate in the organic ritual of grape turning to wine, under the warm Sonoma sun

The day was made up of four hours of hard labor (picking grapes), two hours of separating the stems from the grapes, and just minutes to pour the pulp, juice and peel into big white sanitized bins for a few weeks of fermentation.  By midday, we indulged in delicious homemade delicacies ala Dano (my husband) and tasty varietal wines from the Sonoma wine country region.  

In Italy, the Italians describe a day such as yesterday, with one word, Abbondanza!  It was a full, beautiful, and fruitful day made up of long talks with friends I hadn’t seen in years, with family I hadn’t seen in months but always with abundant laughter and kindness pouring from their hearts. 

Robert Louis Stevenson said, Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.” 

This weekend, we celebrated not only an abundant harvest, but reaped from the seeds we planted over the many years of our lives. 

We are what we create and I have to remind myself of this truth each and every day.

 

Country Roads Take Me Home

Vineyards in Napa Valley

I ride through the back country roads of the Sonoma wine country, rich in history, song and nature to admire the homes (a restored Victorian especially), living amongst the old Oaks. 

Along the way, I marvel at the rural rustic barns holding up against the hot sun and the deep blue sky with all their might.   

This bike path, in particular remains a favorite of mine on Burndale Road.  A favorite, not only for the scenic sites, but for the strong emotions these historical and natural views conjure up inside my being.  My father once said to me, “How fortunate you are to live in thick of Nature.” How true are his words.

These back country roads take me home, literally, figuratively and spiritually.  I ride for meditative purposes, where the stilled rhythmic movement, riding cyclically into the quiet workings of nature, brings me front and center to what really matters in life: simple joys, which the world at large seems to easily look over.  And these simple joys couldn’t be better conveyed in the song my sister shared with me recently from the play, Pippin.

“Simple Joys”

Sweet summer evenings, hot wine and bread
Sharing your supper, sharing your bed
Simple joys have a simple voice
It says, “Why not go ahead?”
And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
Than a man who never learns how to be free
Not ’til he’s cold and dead

Well, I’ll sing you a story of a sorrowful lad
Had everything he wanted, didn’t want what he had
He had wealth and pelf and fame and name and all of that noise
But he didn’t have none of those simple joys
His life seemed purposeless and flat
Aren’t you glad you don’t feel like that?

So he ran from all the deeds he’d done, he ran from things he’d just begun
He ran from himself, which was mighty far to run
Out into the country where he’d played as a boy
‘Cause he knew he had to find him some simple joy
He wanted someplace warm and green
We all could use a change of scene

Sweet summer evenings, so full of sound
Gaining a lover, gaining a pound
Simple joys have a simple voice
It says, “Take a look around”
And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
Or a newt on the root of a banyan tree
Than a man who never learns how to be free
Not ’til he’s underground

Sweet summer evenings, sapphire skies
Feasting your belly, feasting your eyes
Simple joys have a simple voice
It says, “Time is living’s prize”
And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea
Or a crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea
Or a newt on the root of a banyan tree
Or a fig on a twig in Galilee
Than a man who never learns how to be free
Not ’til the day he, not ’til the day he
Not ’til the day, not ’til the day he
Dies!

So, with that song in my head, and knowing time is life’s living prize, I ride from my home on Lovall Valley Road, down 7th Street East, towards Denmark Street.  There, I look out over the rows of vineyard and soak in the region’s unique beauty; Turning left and towards Gundlach Bundschuh winery, I think of its rich history and vast production of full bodied wines; knowing this. 

In 1858, Jacob Bundschu purchased 400 acres in Sonoma and christened it Rhinefarm.  He went back to Bavaria, married his childhood sweetheart and spent their honeymoon traveling through France and Germany purchasing the rootstock he would be planting here in Sonoma.  The wines, made to perfection over those many years, are a delight to the palate.   I especially love their 2009 Tempranillo.  Anyway, I digress, but what a love story of finding Gundlach’s woman and wine.

As I carry with me, the song of simple joys, Gundlach’s history, with its blood, sweat and tears labored in those wine country hills, I ride further across Napa Road to Burndale, taking a quick right on Hyde Burndale Road for a mile or so, where scattered homes hide alongside the bumpy, rocky road. 

I take a deep breath to muster the stamina to ride up Burndale, a killer hill (there’s a reason they call it BURNdale), panting and praying for the burn to end.  I make my way, very slowly back to Denmark and then, home when another song comes to mind. 

Country Roads by John Denver.  He once sang, (and my mother would sing in her own lyrical, funny sort of way) to my brother, sister and I, Country roads take me home, to the place I belong.”  These country roads in the wine country take me home, back to simple joys, simple living, where I can hear my simple voice, loud and clear, amongst the noise and confusion.

Finding the Strength

Life has its hard knocks and when it knocks we feel the pain deeply, whether it be the death of a family member or friend, the loss of a job, the loss of self, it hurts.  

But life has a softer touch, a gentle rhythmic tapping sound on the shoulder, in the ear, the heart–a tap, tap, tapping reminder of time going by. 

As I approach 50, I feel the tick-tocking of time more acutely.  I watch my friends grow older, my favorite icons or mentors die, my parents ripen to a rich old age (for which I am grateful), and my own children move into adulthood!  This life, with its starts and finishes, hellos and goodbyes, joys and sorrows, ups and downs, the good and uglies all move to the dance of time.  And what a dance it is. 

I am thrilled to be alive, and soak in each day like a sponge–the sun as it rises, the grapes as they turn, my family as it grows and contributes to life itself.  Still, there are times, when bad news comes in for me or a loved one, when we need strength, courage, or a great sense of humor to make sense of it all. 

As an adult, I derive strength from my well of family, friends, country surroundings, pets, stories, poetry, exercise, past experiences and of course, from our Nicolas Alexander 2007 vintage. (One must have wine!)

Growing up, I found strength in my childhood home, where my parents provided security, and stability, a roof over my head, food on the table, land to run free and love to dive into each and every day. 

I grew strong in mind, body and spirit on my mother‘s muscle soup.  I don’t remember a pain, a trouble, a care in the world that wasn’t cured by my mother’s muscle soup.  It was the end all, be all, for life’s trials and tribulations. 

With my father, it was curiosity and lively debate at the dinner table that fed our souls. 

With my mother, what mattered most to her (besides her independence) was food, cooking and attending to our basic needs: food, security and love. 

Here in the wine country, M.F.K. Fisher, who lived her life in Glen Ellen, CA. wrote this in The Art of Eating.

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”

I know what my mother and Fisher meant when they talked and lived by these words.   It was just last week, the rain was coming down and all I wanted to do was make a pot of my mother’s muscle soup.  As I put the ingredients into the pot, stirred the olive oil, minced garlic, fresh basil leaves, soaked lentils, chopped green peppers, and a little tomato sauce, these delicious smells filled my kitchen.  I felt whole, happy, alive.

I was one with the world.

Nature’s Song

Acorn Woodpecker
Image via Wikipedia

The day is beautiful.  The sun warms on high.  The sky is blue, the air cool and crisp, and the birds are out in large number frolicking and finding food for the day. 

Here in this region, I am greeted by the American Red Robin and Goldfinch, the Western Scrub-Jay, the Chipping Sparrow, the Acorn Woodpecker (who seems to love pecking on our metal chimney top), the Cedar Waxwing, and Anna’s Hummingbird

These birds are poetry in motion.  And I love watching my backyard birds jump from limb to limb, hop from place to place, singing nature’s lullaby as I lie in our Panamanian blue hammock.  I marvel at the hummingbird who feed so close to my redwood deck, I can see his wings flutter a million times over.  It’s truly a backyard vacation for me.  As I watch, wide-eyed at Nature‘s feathered friends, I look for poems to express the childlike wonder I carry inside through my maturing years. 

Backyard Vacation by Wendy G. Black

I sit here and gaze at God‘s blue sky
With white puffy clouds drifting by
And the vibrant green of grass and trees
And the flowers all bowing in the breeze

Then I look out across the peaceful pond
At the woods and the pasture just beyond.
And closer in, flying into view
The finch, the cardinal, and the bluebird, too.

In the redwood swing, I lean back and then
Enjoy the melody of the wren.

The whir of the hummingbird darting by
The sight of the buzzard, floating high.
The robin defending its hidden nest
By chasing away the cowbird pest.

I sit out here and swing along
As I listen with joy to God’s nature song.

And as I listen to each trill and peep,
I close my eyes and fall asleep.

 Do you know a song more rapturous and intoxicating than Nature’s Song?

Autumn Deepens My Acceptance

Vineyard in Napa Valley
Image via Wikipedia

As the Autumn leaves turn color and fall gracefully to the ground, I surrender to nature’s call to let go of what no longer serves me and allow new moments to take shape, deepening my acceptance of life and soaking in the beauty of the here and now. 

With the rain, I feel Fall’s rhythm take hold.  She moves in, moves out, moves through me, emptying my soul and mind of attachments and illusions–what life should be rather than deeply understanding life’s perfection as she is. 

Like Fall, I am dropping my leaves, becoming barren as I clear each room of possessions I no longer need.  Slowly, I am moving back in with precious things–just a number of books, plants, photos, candles, my dog Jeb, my cats, Sosa, Amber and Max. 

I think of Judith A. Lawrence’s poem, and like her, I resonate with Fall.

I shall be Autumn
this Halloween,
with leaf draped skirt,
and folds of
boysenberry velvet wine
flowing to the ground.

Brown stained face,
eyes rimmed in gold,
nails dripping sunset,
a crown of twigs
to cover my head.

You may gather from me
the spring of my youth,
my summer of maturity,
and hold onto with me,
the solace of these days
of remembering
before the frost.

What is it about Autumn that makes you accept life on her terms?