The process of say making a dress or a few bottles of wine reveals how hard
these things really are and, as a consequence, I think you enjoy the
professionally-made product with different understanding. But it’s one thing
to make a single dress, realize you’re no good at it and stop; it’s another to
devote time year after year to the making of something you hope will become
wine. The other day we opened a bottle of white and found that I’d made a dry
wine-like liquid, which smelled very strongly of the original grape...some sort
of Muscat I think… and tasted…pretty awful. I poured it into the trap we use
to capture fruit flies. They ignored it.
But if ever there were a summer in Oregon that heated cabernet and merlot
grapes to ripeness, even at our (slight) elevation, this was it. So hearing
that rain is due, I went out to inspect. Those of you who have visited here,
or read past pieces, will know that my innovation in the world of grape growing
is to allow our vines to reach up into the firs and dogwood. I gazed thirty
feet up and saw lots of purple. “What the heck,” I thought. “One more try.”
The chickens gathered round.
Mimo, “What’s the project?”
“I’m going to harvest the cabernet and merlot.”
Mimo, “Very good. Is it edible?”
“Is what edible?”
Pecorino, “The cabinet?”
“Yes,” I said. “You can have any grapes that drop.”
They liked the first stage, which was to harvest all bunches that were within
easy reach. A good number of grapes fell, also leaves. They gobbled both.
Appenzeller, “Much appreciated. You know the food in the container is getting
I said I’d get to that. I began tugging on the vines to bring them down.
Pecorino, “He’s making the sky fall.”
Appenzeller, “Run away.”
Pecorino, “The wrath, the wrath.”
Mimo hung around, seeking an advantage.
When I got to the point where I wasn’t making further progress, I gathered the
pieces I’d pulled to the ground and set off for the garden recycling bin. At
this point Hamish decided that he hadn’t contributed much to our endeavor and
so he happily grabbed a trailing piece and set off in the opposite direction.
I stopped. He gave a big tail wagging demonstration. “I’m good at this,
aren’t I?” What can you say?
For the vines that had tangled themselves in the dogwood tree I needed a spade,
the edge of which I used to reach a high point and pull a section down. And
then it was a matter of getting balanced, closing my eyes and using my full two
hundred pounds to bring it down. All kinds of detritus and dust came down too.
There must be easier ways to harvest grapes.
The first clue I had that there was effective local resistance was when the
vine pretended to surrender and then jerked back. I stumbled and banged my
hands into my head. Nearly a knockout punch. The second clue was when I got
to the garden recycling and found that the world had gone blurry. Somehow,
somewhere, I had lost my glasses.
To find glasses, you need glasses. A second pair solved the problem. I
stopped before I was completely exhausted, which meant that I had sufficient
energy to win the evening’s tennis—doubles, against top team in the league—6-3,
6-2. I slept well.
The probe Cassini, named after a French-Italian astronomer, was launched on
P.G. Wodehouse’s birthday (also mine) in 1997. I have had some interest in it
as the mission developed. Thus I found myself describing to the chickens the
moment when the craft plunged onto Saturn. (You’ve got to talk about
“We humans had a presence orbiting the planet to investigate…stuff. The
scientists on the radio said that the data they gathered is really interesting
Some time later I found them circling the lemon tree that sits beside the
sculpture on the concrete patio. I asked what they were doing.
Mimo, “Gathering data.”
“And what are you finding?”
Mimo, “Much of it is indigestible.”
Pecorino, “But we shall persist.”
Appenzeller, “In the interest of Science.”
Appenzeller, “We have no idea.”
Appenzeller crowed again this week. It was when Mimo disappeared into the gap
between the air conditioning unit and the house to lay an egg.
I checked on Mimo. “Don’t say a word.”
“Watch out for the bees,” I suggested. “I’m still suffering after-effects of
I try to read the chickens one of Billy Collins’ poems
The way they stretch their necks suggests the interest level of students who
have never understood learning but who might be willing to give it one more go
if the reward seems within reach. Not the purposeful stretch that gets them
berries or the hostile forward and backward motion when on a run towards an
interloper. There’s nothing of yoga in a chicken listening. You can hardly
tell they’re breathing.
I’ve chosen to read the poem about people in a pub in the future continuing, as
ever, not to like a wet dog. I explain what a pub is as best I can to chickens
who don’t even know the word tea and to whom total is a tough one. “It’s like
a gathering place under a bush on a hot day. Social.”
Mimo, “If the day is hot, why is the dog wet?”
Appenzeller, “Maybe he’s been jumping up to bite water from the hose?”
Pecorino, “Yes, yes, that’ll be the reason.”
Mimo, “Does that quite a lot.”
Appenzeller, “Odd things, dogs.”
Mimo, “Quite odd.”
Pecorino, “Especially when wet…that shaking thing they do.”
Appenzeller, “Can’t imagine how it’s done.”
Mimo, “Miraculous really, being able to fling like a sprinkler.”
Pecorino, “I bet it keeps you cool.”
Eventually I interrupted. “Can I finish?”
Mimo, “Another difficult question.”
Pecorino, “How are you feeling?”
Appenzeller, “Takes stamina, poetry."
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