Something a little different this time around: I decided to expand and work on a creative writing piece about night harvesting Mourvèdre at Page Springs for this month’s Noise article. This is probably one of my favorite pieces of writing I’ve ever produced… so, please, enjoy.
Imagine, if you will, a vineyard in the high desert, growing on the remains of an ancient lake at the foot of an extinct shield volcano. Your feet, eleven million years ago, would be wading along the shores and cool waters of that lake, while behind you, pillars of fire and smoke arose into the skies against the red walls of the Mogollon Rim, and there would be the sound of fire, and the scent of ashes. The world would shake under your feet, like an army terrible with banners marching to war.
But tonight? Now it is a clear night. The distant flashes of monsoon lightning on the far horizon, looking like distant heavy artillery, are the only evidence of violence. Above you, the sky is so clear that you can see the very colors of the stars in the heavens above. Everywhere the soft whisper of harvest shears, footsteps crunching on limestone soil, and quiet murmured conversation surrounds you. In the distance, coyotes howl and their cries in the dark night pierce your wounded and lonely soul. All of these eventually fade into silence as you walk between the rows of vines. Meanwhile, you pluck clusters of Mourvèdre grapes that are often the size of your face and shaped like hearts. They weigh heavy in your hands: plump, purple, and sweet … like memories of past lovers, memories of people you’ve wronged by accident either by loving them too much, or by not loving them enough. You are reminded of mysteries beyond your comprehension.
They weigh heavy like your heart, wronged by the inability to understand. You remember the loves that got away; like the bird flying out of the vine into the darkness of night to points unknown, crying aloud in a prayer of supplication. The love you would do just about anything to bring back; the one whose silence slices like knives the color of the night. Snip, snip, in the dark, as the clusters fall into your hands, into the bright orange bucket you carry between the rows. You try to snip the memories away. Your mind wanders. You cut your hand with the shears. The harvest teaches discipline. You must be mindful of where you put your hands, your feet, your heart, your mind, your soul. Otherwise, you shall be grievously wounded by your shears, or the shears of others. You remind yourself to apply this lesson to your daily life, outside of the vines, where even greater dangers await. (You will forget. You will need this lesson again.)
You remind yourself of the history of these grapes you hold in your hands. You remember the Phoenician galleys, sailing across the wine-dark seas from Byblos in the East, with precious cargo in their holds: vines, dreaming of foreign suns. These ships sail to the distant shores of far Tarshish, on the coast of Spain. You recall the blood, gold, and wine of Carthaginian Imperialism; Iberian chieftains bought and sold, and soldiers hired to fight in foreign wars, and everywhere, the vines continuing their inexorable journey to new lands, waiting for the soldiers to return.
Mourvèdre comes from the Rhone, too, that mighty river that flowed right in the path of Hannibal’s Herculean march against Rome; the very conflict that set in motion the Western World. Maybe, you think to yourself, the wine his army carried was made from the ancestors of these grapes that weigh so heavy in your hands. You remember that this grape was grown for Popes enthroned in Avignon. The Spanish name for this grape, Monastrell, still holds that connection to God and Communion. Somehow, along the way, these vines ended up in the Verde Valley as their final destination, under a lonely new moon.
The light of your headlamp is the only thing that tells you where you are in the dead of night — but even then, you cannot see the end of the rows. The rows of vines last past the horizon. All you can do is focus on the world around you. Moths whirl around your head like electrons around a nucleus, their eyes gleaming like polished copper. You feel alone in the world, as if you’re walking in a world that is in the process of creation; that hour when God Himself walks on the earth and breathes, and before the world has fallen apart. The air is fresh and smells of earth and mint and the pregnant waters of Oak Creek, just beyond the next ridge. Grape juice stains your hand crimson, and mixes with blood. Magically, whenever you fill your bucket full of grapes, someone on a quad swoops in, and picks up your load, and gives you another empty bucket or two, before disappearing back into the night. This is your only human contact throughout the course of your vigil. All is wonder and magic. The world begins to make sense again.
And then the sun begins to come out behind the mountain, turning the few clouds into polished metals: silver, copper, and gold. The rays of the sun coming from the distant mountains illuminate the world in bands reminiscent of our flag. The dawn chorus of the birds are heard: Kingbirds, greeting the sun; a distant Gila woodpecker, and the first autumn bluebirds call overhead. When the Black Hawks scream from the creekside cottonwoods, you know that the end of that night’s harvest has come. You are sad, again. You don’t want to leave, to go to that humdrum daytime job. You don’t want to depart from this magical world. You wonder why you could ever leave. But you do. And you must.
This is not Heaven; this is the World, and there are troubles in it.
For some of us, those wielders of the pruners and shears of righteousness, we will return, night after sleepless night, into that magical kingdom amid the vines, when time holds still under the wheeling stars. The harvest is the sacred calling, and the vineyards are a temple devoted to the glory of the divine. The land is the bridegroom of Biblical parable, and the vines are His children, and need care and devotion in order to safely journey into the bottle to adulthood and old age. Those who have been chosen will sleep when all is accomplished, and not a moment sooner. The Harvest needs them. The vines need them.
As one of my favorite authors wrote, not all that long ago in the scale of the history of these vines: “FOR WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?”
Copyright: Cody Burkett, 2017