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silvereyes

Protecting Precious Treasure

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Protecting Precious Treasure

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.

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Heat of Summer

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Heat of Summer

We're in the thickest part of summer and I’m wearing a layer of discomfort that only immersion in sea and nighttime breeze can relieve. We are at the end of the season of Birak, the time traditional owners of these lands used to spend by the sea. It is also the season when they burned the bush to drive game into the open. Increasingly dense housing combined with fire bans have led to limited burning bringing the fuel load to dangerous levels. Fire is inevitable here, but in modern years has become increasingly destructive to property as a result of this way of treating country.

The vineyard shimmers in the heat, wind a vague recollection. Only the grasshoppers are moving, smashing into the nets like moths pinging against a lightbulb. They rise with a desiccated clatter and Houdini sidewise through the nets. Meanwhile the marris at vineyard edge are beginning to bloom, but in this intense heat, the nectar volatizes. The bees, normally in high-pitched chorale, are toiling elsewhere. The silvereyes are down by the seashore - there’s nothing to eat or drink here. The sky is a washed out version of lavender, a cloud would die of loneliness. 

I head down to the surf, the sea a drowsy grayish blue wearing a holy white halo of haze. No one is about, repelled by sun and the latest shark scare. I gallop towards the blue place, wincing as I sink into the firewalk of baking sands. I have to stagger step my way down into the relieving swirls.

I visualize a mushroom cloud of steam rising off of me as I knife into the swell. I remain in the waves, bringing my core temperature down, looking across the undulating mercury. I cover my head with rubber tentacles of kelp and wrack, improvising a soothing salty sun shield. My breathing slows, I allow the coolness of sea to penetrate deeper and will it inward. I relax into the cold and feel a deeper movement and the sea’s grace.

With closed eyes I attempt to float, but I'm wave battered and take too much water on board. I dive and touch craggy limestone reef scattering silver shiver of herring in my tumbling wake.

I stay semi submerged for a long time. My fingers prunify and a salt taste sets up in my nose and back of throat and along my lips. My eyes are red and stingy. I'm getting that blurry wide horizon stare and am starting to feel cleansed. 

Standing with feet digging through sand, activating deadened toes, stretching ached out muscles, breathing salt, getting goosebumps in the miniscule breeze.

Virtually all thought has been burnt and washed away. I'm cooled down and getting ideas about those herring and icy beer.

The trek back up to the truck dries me out some more, and I gobble a liter of water in one breath, my salty throat aflame. I drive over the ridge to the vineyard, hot wind blowing across bare chest. The vines have taken it on the chin - the heat has been overwhelming and the leaves are facing away from the sun. They have shut down to reduce transpiration loss. Everything is suspended in a holding pattern, waiting for the sun to take a vacation.

One beer later I’m back at the shore casting into the surf and a velvet lavender sky with watermelon rind horizon. Old Sol takes a deep breath before sounding into a silvered pool, and in a moment the light goes dull. The breeze comes up and with it the fish are on the bite.

I reel iridescence upon iridescence out of the shimmer and soon have filled the dinner pail. I clean the catch in a purple gloaming. Stars wink as the surf cracks and foams before me. The softest of breeze is beginning to tickle into shore and I am a green plant again. I stretch my leaves and drink it in and head home to the fry pan

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