A Lasting Harvest


The vines clung to the trellis in their last attempt for salvation. So heavy with fruit they hung, enduring their labor pains, thirsty for one more day of sun. The final days of August revealed scorched leaves waltzing their way to the ground, part of a festive dance done each year marking the forthcoming presence of Autumn. Speckled with flecks of sun I stood beneath a canopy of hanging grapes pruning those that hadn't endured the struggle long enough to make it to the vat. Raffaele stood beside me silent in his work, ripe in heart and age, the white of his weathered hair strewn with leaves. Ahead of us, beneath another sagging vine, stood his grown son Luigi clipping away and reminding us that no lunch is to be had until the bushels are full and the harvest is complete.
We worked in silence as the country breeze whispered wisdom in our ears. Dislodging pieces of tangled Earth from my hair, I peered down responding to a strange touch, weary of what I might find. A white spider dangled from my forearm preparing to spin a new web to replace the one I had accidentally destroyed. His resolve was quick and practical revealing nature's ability to adapt; a quality rarely seen these days among more evolved species.
Suddenly, Raffaele let out a yelp of startled pain and I rushed over fearful of what the old man's trembling hands had done. Drooping over like the vine above him, he revealed a cracked and creased hand writhing in a crimson pool of blood. I surveyed the ground for a thumb or pinky and found nothing. When my gazing eyes looked up, I was horrified to see Raffaele's face contorted in laughter. What I had thought was blood wasn't the imperative life sustaining garnet flow but rather an equally sustaining, if not more satisfying substance, the kind of which yields the life savoring elixir mortal man calls wine. Relieved at my own gullibility, I released a heartfelt chuckle at Raffaele's little joke before resuming my work in our shared space of unspoken solitude. Raffaele, who was clearly pleased with himself, continued his work as well whilst whistling a private tune to himself and shooting grateful glances in my direction.
After the last bunch of hopeful red pearls were thrown into the bushel, we washed our hands clean of grapes and filled the trailer with our day's work. Driving through the back roads of Cretone Palombara Sabina, Luigi showed off his impeccable knowledge of shortcuts. He pointed out where and when to pick the wild strawberries, the difference between a bosco and a foresta, and the benefits of drinking sulfur water. I let the peace of rolling pastures lure me into a sleepy eyed euphoria. Visions of pecorino cheese and fresh pears bathing in honey, bottomless glasses of robust reds, and hot pans of focaccia dusted in rosemary were haunting my senses until a pit in the road knocked me awake. Then to my astonishment, and with the confidence that only a man born on this land has earned, Luigi dramatically whips the truck around nearly sending the trailer over the edge of the plunging valley below. Without a glance in the rearview mirror, he accelerates in reverse, uphill, and barely dodges another car before parking perfectly in front of the small garage that will serve as our winery.
Standing in the garage of Raffaele's grandfather we prepare to de-stem, de-spider, and crush the grapes. As bushels are lifted and juice is pumped, Raffaele passes around glasses of last year's vintage ignoring his son' s disapproval and relishing his seniority. There is pride in his eyes along with a spark of mischief as he throws back the small glass in one sip before urging us to do the same. By the end of the crush we are sweaty and caked with grit. Gathered around the vat we peer inside to marvel at the squishy fruits of our labor.
It was a day of uprooting. A time to take out of the ground all that we had planted so deep during the year. The vine grows stronger with age. Year after year the roots strive for deeper soil. It is a merciless downward quest to take hold of something, to cling to some solid truth beneath the surface of it all. The vine's desire is simple: last long enough to produce something worth keeping.

A Casey

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