We drive part way to Boston before answering a call that in fact, they do not have a bed for me. When we return home to our bonus day, we think together, what shall we do?
We harvest our overflowing patch of tomatoes and Paul makes his famous slow-cooked-with herbs-and-then-drenched-in-olive oil-jarred-tomatoes.
And then, as the heat drains from the day, we harvest the lion’s share of our concord grapes. Planting grape vines is one of our pandemic projects. I mail order the rooty starts on a bit of a whim. When I open the box, the unimpressive dried out roots are wrinkled and dusty, not giving any hint at the miracle plants they are. Nonetheless, we plant as directed. A year later Paul designs a simple but gorgeous arbor for the newest members of our ever-expanding little fruit operation here on Middle Street.
Each of the first two years we cut back any inkling of an idea of grapes. Instead, we invite the plants to pull all their energies into their roots. And just like raising kids or nurturing a friendship, or building a career, or working a hobby, we focus on the important stuff, those basics that build a good foundation. For grapes, this is about root building, compost fertilizing, watering, and offering sturdy structure for climbing.
This year we let the grapes grow, the vines winding their way up and around the wire fencing as they vie for sunshine and space, a kind of manifest destiny across yards and yards of twiny cord. The weather also cooperates, especially in these last weeks, while we have mostly been away, the dry and warm spell is just what the grapes need to ripen into a deep indigo, use the inside their skins chemical reactions to set their inherent sweetness, all the while not succumbing to mold.
When you have been married as long as we have, it’s not often you have brand new experiences together. From standing between the rows, lifting the broad shady leaves to reveal the literal treasure trove of bunches, like caricatures of grape clusters, to carefully snipping the bundles and gently piling into an oversized woven basket, to inhaling the singular concord grape smell that might sneak up behind you on a hike this time of year, to standing together at the kitchen sink to destem and rinse these deep cobalt wonders, we thoroughly enjoy our labor of love.
We learned how to make grape juice on the stove top: cover the pulpy jewels with water, add a wee bit of sugar, start mashing along (think here the I Love Lucy grape-stomping scene,) strain through cheese cloth, and decant into freshly washed and sparkling jars. We then take initial steps to make our very first batch of wine. I love watching Paul’s strong hands and even, gentle fingers, as he scoops handfuls of smashed up grape pulp into a narrow cheese cloth bag and ties it off to rest in a bucket, his fingernails carry a blush of lavender in the process. Doing something new invigorates the soul, doing it together wraps another ribbon of love around us, pulls us toward each other, reminds us how blessed we are to walk our precious lives together.
The Jewish New Year is coming right up. We plan to host our annual gathering on Mt. Pollux and to share this grape juice (and more!) with our people. Another tradition of the holiday is Tashlich, where we go to moving water and toss in bits of bread, each represents an old habit, thought, worry, or behavior that no longer serves us. In our family, we then turn to face the oncoming water and toss in more crumbs, this time welcoming in what we yearn for, what we’re aiming for, and what we hope for in the coming year. New experiences are always on my list, ways of being in my relationships, my body, my work, and in this beautiful world.
I love that in this pre-holiday time we welcome in a brand-new experience, especially during a time when my life feels a bit narrowed, if you will. What will be your grape juice this year?
May it come with chances for connection and meaning, for fun and rest, for good works, and creativity—all with vibrant health in a more just and peaceful world.
Shana Tova (Happy New Year!) from Middle Street