We meet in the early morning light. Dewdrops glisten on the leaves and wispy clouds drift in from the pulsing sea. A line of surfers motor by, off to catch the promising swell at our local surf break, as we six lift nets from bags and place them across the rows. Then moving all together, in constant communication, we unroll a white carpet across the canopy. Occasionally the net snags and a voice calls out a halt, and we wait for it to be untangled. It’s so easy to damage a net from snagging and we move patiently, getting it right as we go. Unroll and repeat, unroll and repeat.
Once we’ve unrolled the nets, we lock them down under wires, wires that tangle as they are rolled out, tangles that require patience to unravel. The sun is melting us.
I have become a fisherman, with my nets and my wires, and I flash on how much of my fishing time is spent tying monofilament and untangling impossible knots and snags. Netting the vines requires the same patience and attention to detail. If I try to force something in the hopes of accelerating my progress, it causes a set back. I’m challenged, now, with the day heating up, to maintain the careful attention and patience and breath needed.
Next we check each net for holes, carrying repair strands of tough polyethylene cord. We check the periphery and then go down every row, lifting the net above our heads, searching for the smallest tear. The Silvereye, Zosterops lateralis, is tiny and a deft flyer, able to slip through the tiniest gap. This beautiful little creature can wreak terrible damage on the grapes, by typically taking a single sip out of multiple grapes, effectively ruining each. When other forms of food are absent, silvereyes have been known to dive bomb the nets to tear them open, and once one silvereye enters, others are sure to follow.
The nets are made of a plastic that degrades with time, and exposure to sunlight. They can catch on posts and wires and tear, and the littlest tear is an invitation to invasion. To sew up a hole, we go all the way around the damage, weaving the cord through the solid holes and then tying it tightly. It is easy to miss a tear, all depends on the angle of vision, a trick of the light -- so we check and recheck each other’s work.
And then at a certain point we scrutinize the blocks in teams to make sure the nets are secured near the ground. We receive strong prevailing ocean winds here, and if we fail to lock down the nets, they can be swept open, exposing the fruit, and undoing this meticulous labor.
Every morning and every evening from now until vintage I will walk the vineyard, monitoring the nets. When they are breached, I will release the trapped birds and repair the nets. We leave the vineyard in a sea of white, a Christo wrapping, a bandage of gauze embracing vibrant green.
I return just before dusk on foot, listening to a huge commotion of ravens. I’m in a post exercise in the sun kind of torpor, which lifts in an instant when I startle a magnificent male fox. He lopes away, and circles back in the high grass, followed by the ravens. They are hoping to participate in a kill. He glances back at me as he disappears into the cover, the ravens wheeling away in hoarse song, the sky dimming.