“Harvest is the anchoring point of our year” is what I wrote in the first blog of this series, and it’s what I tell myself as the bathroom light first hits my eyes at three in the morning and when I down a mug of coffee and when I realize that it was decaf. Earlier, when the grating noise of my alarm breaks the tranquility of my darkened room, I’m not awake enough even to think, let alone give myself pep talks. Later on I’m too immersed in the rush of harvest — and in the rush of grape juice, grape leaves, dirt clods, and MOG.
MOG: Material other than grape. Includes the leaves, but also includes spiders, lizards, earwigs, and sleepy frogs. Undesirable in grape production for a number of obvious reasons.
Harvest is the time when we all come together and feel pride through the fatigue. It is the time when the work in the vineyard and the work in the lab conjoins and the work in the cellar begins. So, yes, it anchors us, but it can also be a time when we feel unmoored. It is the time when we lose track of the days, when we lack the energy to eat anything other than cereal, donuts, energy bars, and tacos, when we triage every other element of our lives to make room for the beast.
For my brother, a professional ballet dancer, the Nutcracker season is one in which he says everyone forgets their own birthday — rather sad for him, since his falls within it. My mom’s is during harvest. Asked by a friend what they had done for it, my dad stared blankly and was completely unable to recall. For the record, they had carved out a brief moment for the event that year, but it was quickly forgotten in the turmoil.
My parents never work less hard than I do, but this was something I had to remind myself in the harvest seasons of high school if I came home to find them both comatose. I was taking every AP course I could get my hands on as well as visual fine arts and orchestra and various other activities — and on early Siebert Ranch harvests, I would help harvest the first twelve tons before catching the bus to school. Joining in on the nap idea was tempting (very telling, if you know how much I suck at taking naps), but I always had homework.
My mind, if not my body, certainly took naps during the day. I had more than the standard teenager’s share of glassy-eyed stares. I will always love my AP Lang teacher for giving me a chance to make up credit after I missed a major deadline in the harvest season of my junior year. One friend shook her head at me and said, “I went to bed at three.”
For my sixteenth birthday, my dad bought me a forklift, although of course it really belongs to the farm. I don’t fancy getting a parking permit for it here on my college campus. I had been learning the forklift job for the past several years — though slowly, often with empty bins. At some point I began to be entrusted with full bins, then with full bins in real time rather than in the lulls, and then my dad started simply walking off to deal with some other part of harvest and leaving me in charge. I loved (and still love) the precision, the meditative gaps, the intense spurts of concentration.
At home, harvest is in full swing. Unusually, the first two picks of the season were on the weekend, and Labor Day weekend at that. I was able to go home for them — and definitely appreciated the labor that goes into this business, this industry, and this country. Sitting in my college dorm, I hope for my sake for more weekend harvests. For the sake of the people who work that way every day throughout the fall, I hope instead that some of their weekends can be a small breath of calm between storms. Perhaps, occasionally, they will remember their birthdays.
This is the second in a series that our daughter Lucy is writing about people’s experiences of harvest. See the first here. Much of the time her job is leaf-picking, something she wrote about in depth in the previous blog, so didn’t go into here.
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