Chapter 1: The Deep and Simple Immensity
It is wondrously lonely out now. And it’s cold in the night. Cold compared to the bed I came out of, untangling from the warm body of my woman, a half-hour before. There is not another soul anywhere around, and it is so dark here in the middle of my vineyard at three in the morning that I can only feel the vines, pregnant with Cabernet, surrounding me as my breath wreaths, ghostly, away and up. I cannot see the ordered lines of vines progress away from me down the hill out to the horizon, but I know that they do. I cannot discern in the black the arroyos that cut through my property and put tears into the perfect rectangle of vines, but I know that they do and know that they are home to the fox and the coyote and the turkey when they are not running with the waters of winter. If one believes in God, he would find it here immanent in the perfect ripeness of fruit and in the gentle whisper of eucalyptus crown (that sounds like the sea coming to shore when the Livermore winds blow in the afternoon) and in the perfect coldness and the perfect blackness, made imperfect only by the perfection of stars salting the black bowl above.
In an hour the lights stationed on the perimeter of the vineyard will be lit as the generators are yanked to life, and the pickers will arrive from small towns to the east in their old cars and clothed for the chill. They will have their lugs and their knives, and they will amble to one of the rows that the foreman chooses, and they will start work there and work until there are no more grapes to pick. There is constant movement now as the pick is organized, one winery wanting fruit from some specific row so they start there; men and women hunch against the cold and to the height of the vines; the outhouse for the pickers will be towed to one of the lanes that separate one block of grapes from another, water coolers full of water will be set up by a truck tire and paper cups will litter the ground later like confetti at a parade. But this is the hour before the harvest starts, the time when I am still alone in this world where the blackness falls like soft rain and the cold burns like an electric arc.
The deep and simple immensity of this moment, here, in the still of the night-time world, will be inevitably attenuated by mundanity’s ceaseless progress. In an hour, the trellis wires will thrum industriously in the silent air, hands will unmoor fruit unselfconsciously from vine and plastic lugs will be kicked ahead, keeping time to the tumbling bunch. That precious moment of quietude (both wholesome and whole) that reigned briefly before will be gone, lamented only by me and, maybe, only for that short while. The din will grow, pushing ahead of it into oblivion the plush silence, and the cold and shadowed spaces below the vines will be warmed by the moving lights and the pickers heaving their loads ahead.
The men and women who come into Livermore from out in the eastern valleys, their faces covered against the night, move in a graceless and determined knot from one row to another as, ahead, little ATVs haul the half-ton bins into which the smaller lugs are emptied. The vineyard rows they leave behind are diffident and tattered, bits of leaf lying bedeviled between rows. In the ever-moving lights, the flying bugs cavort, falling unbegrudgingly into the brightness. The artificial suns rip apart the sable fabric of the night, a dissonant juggernaut in their intractable singlemindedness. In the coming of the dawn the eastern rim of the foothills is set on fire, turning the black at the margins first to the blue of deep water, then bleaching the sky free of the black altogether. In the morning the vineyard is picked clean; the metallic melody of wire is silenced, and the grapes that gave these vines purpose have been hauled away to a purpose of their own. I stand here in the crystalline light, seeing every vine clearly now, laid out orderly, denuded, running downhill, forlorn in their destitution. The vines have played out their predetermined role for another year and will die again for a while at the end of the fall. There had been a moment, though, in the black mercy of the night where all futures (for winegrape and winemaker) were still open out ahead and nature abided in grace.