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Cloudburst Wine

Placing the Posts

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Placing the Posts

The truck rolls in in the squeak of morning, mist rising off low ground, magpies swirling a hymn in the highest branches in the first touch of sun.

We climb up into the gritty flatbed and heave heavy spears of wandoo, like Ulyssee's soldiers aiming to blind the Cyclops of vineyard.  Quickly warmed by the effort, we discard jumpers and fleece which join the disarray of salmon piles of posts.  The truck rolls off into the morning as we sort them into semblance of neatness and then haul them in twos and threes to their new homes in the sleeping cabernet sauvignon.

We auger holes in the living ground, place posts and ram, the steady thunk of metal on wood counterpoint to the crackling ocean.  We backfill and tamp in, lining up each post in perfect symmetry aided by brickie’s cord and tape measure and dumb luck, trusting our eyes and the strength of our hands.  And gradually, we plant out the vineyard with these lithe and hardy beings.

Finding rocks and small boulders, we lever them out, making exceptions in our strict lines when we fail to penetrate the ledge.  There are still spikes on the ground instead of in, while I struggle to figure out how and where to place them... 

Days later, I wander through this forest of poles that seems as if it’s always lived here.  In serried rows, like soldiers summoned to attention, awaiting the discipline of wire, and the next thrilling command.

I wander through this exceptional block with smiling face.  It is so beautiful and so "right".  It's like a sculpture that’s been released from the marble.  Was the vineyard always here, calling to be freed into this particular manifestation of perfection?

Oh Cabernet Sauvignon.  

 

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Home

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Home

I leave New York City and fly through the day and then night and into the following day and am met in Perth and driven south into the late afternoon. Through open car windows waft the smells of my country, bringing welcome and relief. Reaching home, I hug dear ones, throw off shoes, and step out into the land. The ocean roars a greeting, frogs chirumph a lullaby, and the sun sets into the silver. Soon I am setting into my own silver, drifting off somewhere in search of my astral body, as rain thrums the sheltering tin roof.

Dawn lifts up with dew fogging paddocks. New green mixes with autumn yellow suffused with purple and lavender and a rose blueberry light all around. Clouds pillowing in great full-scale articulation, call of honeyeater, a crow swooping darkly through misty distance, guinea fowl chuckling loudly. Acacias and bottlebrushes in full bloom, leaves pendent with wet, wave salaam. I look out towards the vines. 

I cross the new plantings noting proliferation of well-watered weeds swiftly overtaking. Fresh leaves shooting from the base of rainwet canes mark a too early spring. Startled roos scatter, thumping earth, vibrations echoing up my legs. Through spirals of swirling damp, I get glimpses of the vines. I reach the Malbec, whose yellowed and brown leaves still cling to canes. A smaller cloak of tan and taupe leaves grace the Cabernet. But the Chardonnay is mostly bare, though scatterings of new green leaves have already appeared at the end of shoots. And winter isn’t yet here.   

A lone crow taunts me from high in a marri. Is he scolding me cause the compost heap needs serious attention? Is he chuckling about this incalculable number of weeds? The inventory of work in front of me has simply got me reeling. A vastness of new posts and wires and infrastructure will be woven soon throughout the new plantings. It's a huge undertaking. New York is still too fresh, and getting a handle on this is way too much, way too soon. I turn my rear on the crow and limp back to unpack, to wash clothes, to settle into a different order, to get perspective, to return.

The magpies are singing an ethereal song, breakfast spatters on the stove, the sun sparkles through drops of water, reflecting golden light everywhere. The ocean pipes in with a gurgle and a roar, and is answered weakly by the rooster. I’m missing cockatoo song, but it’s early in the day. And suddenly I notice I am home.

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What Is Real Today?

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What Is Real Today?

As I got ready to travel to the other side of the world, I had an idea I wanted to write about. But with so much to do prior to departure I opted to write it on the plane where I wouldn’t be distracted. Alas, my attempt to access it from the context of the jet was too much for me. I was fatigued from vintage and the arduous travel compounded it. It slipped away.

Now, twelve time zones distant, in the excitement of NY, it’s even harder to retrieve. The rhythms of nature seem to be overpowered somewhat. And in jetlag’s disassociation, my body and spirit keep reaching back to the feel of back there. Again I’m bridging two worlds, missing the simplicity and directness of life on the farm while being drunk on the sparkle and speed of this realm.

When I left Margaret River, the autumn rains were beginning. The sky had grayed down. Moisture kissed breezes greened up the pastures, while leaves were browning in the vines. My post-vintage fatigue was matched by a world that urged sleep. The season of summer had drawn to a close, and the season of Djeran had arrived, bringing blustery winds out of the southeast, a smattering of rain and noticeably shorter days.

I’m asking myself what is real, as there’s a different scale of real for me today. Nature has been "banished", the bright lights drown the stars. I encounter lovely trees in full spring blossom, tethered to discrete little squares of ground surrounded by concrete. I’m not about to go barefoot around here, but I need to touch the earth. I hold onto a tree, gather blossoms and sniff, pricking distressingly vague memories. Inside the apartment the disconnect is surreal, extreme. It’s normal here to google the weather in order to dress appropriately for it. Back home the weather is woven into the fabric of my existence, I couldn't escape from it, nor would I want to. 

I'm drinking Cloudburst (and Lynch-Bage) on an amazing rooftop with a new friend. New York is spread out before us in the gloaming, as the sun drifts Australiaward. Alpenglow bathes the edifices in a burgundian light and I look off across the Hudson and see the purple hills of New Jersey. My eye is drawn back to the glittering city, the cacophony of horns rising from Lincoln Tunnel gridlock, then back. There's land over there. I see a fox slipping through spring flowers. A gurgling brook. Trees yawning with baby green leaves. The cool living breathing earth exhaling into the gentle dark…  

Bright lights, big city. Darkness. Country. 

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Putting the Cosmos to Barrel

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Putting the Cosmos to Barrel

The Cabernet Sauvignon has finished its transmutation from grape into wine and rests quietly in a pair of open steel fermenters. We finish cleaning the pumps and hoses and press. The wine snakes its way down the tube and slithers into the machine as I wash down my legs and feet with rainwater. Then I climb into the resonating gong of the vat, squishing down into the cool magenta sea. Clumps of skins swath my legs like rich tendrils of purple dulse. I'm breathing a spicy fragrance redolent of mulberries and time. I clutch the rim of the fermenter as the forklift gently carries us up to the open lip of the press. And with blaring rock and roll echoing through the winery, I raise shovelfuls of grape and seed and wine slush into the press. I am breathing a lovely cab sauv perfume, along with carbon dioxide and I keep losing my breath. I’m not intoxicated, but I must be drinking this in through my skin, cause despite the exertion, I’m feeling euphoric. A booming reverberation ricochets off the vat as my plastic shovel strikes its curves. The cd ends, the crew has drifted away, I'm alone with the wine, with the last sloshes of the entire year's effort. I am afloat and at the same time I've come back to earth. 

A cool breeze lifts decaying grape leaves as I shovel the newly pressed skins onto the pile of desiccated malbec skins. The compost pile is growing huge and needs turning and I put it off for yet another day. The light is escaping, the world wants to sleep awhile, to dream a dream of renewal - I am utterly in harmony with that program, I am bone weary. The smell of moldering earthiness mixes with lifted mulberry, rose and cassis and various alcoholic nectars, earth combining with heaven, and everything blending its way into new soil. The slightest rain kisses a benediction and suddenly I see the year bookended neatly. Just about there now. I'm weary, yes, but the job isn't yet finished.

We've tested the wine for residual sugar and deemed it dry. The barrels have been washed and are formed up in an expectant line, like diners at a banquet, awaiting their fill. I've thoroughly cleaned pump and hoses with caustic and citric and flushed them thoroughly with water and I'm preparing to bring the wine home. I tune out random winery cacophony with a mantra of sound generated by my trusty iPod. I’m armed with a flashlight, a silver wand and a focus. I fill each successive barrel slowly with great care, attentive every moment as the liquid swirls its way in.

Soon I'm lost in the richness of all the thrilling smells and the look of it coming in. It circulates with a cosmic Brownian motion and it's the Pig Light Show, Live at the Fillmore. I see universes whirling in perfect harmonious orbits, up and out and away. First this nebula of white blasts a trajectory across the purple to meet a galaxy sliding in from somewhere, only to drift, join, smash and whirl away from and then to collide with yet another and another. The macrocosm shifts through the microcosm and I'm still on mantra, waiting with hand on switch and an eye to properly dock the mothership in its berth, without spilling a drop.

A world spins by and I can make out this guy out on some Gondwanaland peering into a barrel with a flashlight and a silver wand and he sees another guy on the edge of another world watching the rising magenta tide, who in turn is watching some other guy watching the wine. Infinitely so. The wine is dreaming me. Cosmic as ever.

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It's All About the Cabernet

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It's All About the Cabernet

Two weeks later we’re easing up to the equinox and going in for the Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the very opposite of the Malbec harvest – the moon is full, the energy, autumnal, the light silvered, brooding, quiet. The sea is snapping, blasting powerful low timbre pops that rise to reverberate over the ridge, like the sound of a faraway storm. I’m receiving the sounds in my gut like a type of foreboding and I will my breath to slow and my silly human thoughts to empty out so that something else can come in.

The ground is damp to my bare feet. The slightest breeze feathers up laden with moisture, redolent with anticipation. The fullish moon sets down below the horizon and the light has been extinguished. The night has been switched back on. Mercury and Venus have risen and gleam in the East, Saturn and Mars blaze in the western sky. It is a celestially rich moment with various forces and planets lining up perfectly. I’m feeling positively biodynamic as I rock down to the vineyard.

I compose the horoscope of this vintage in my sleep-deprived skull. Addled, grinning, I physicalize the least profound thoughts in all of astrology. I’m giggling with the chill energy of the morning, tasting grapes as we roll up the nets. I pause and listen to the world waking up -- first kookaburra, then magpie, lark, honeyeater, western ringneck parrot, the convoy of crew rolling in. 

Dawn discovers us picking with golden puffs of clouds flying sacred missions through the azure. Then in come the white tailed black cockatoos like a benediction. They station themselves in the marris ringing the vines and set up a cacaphonious hymn that’s immensely cheering. Their presence bookmarks an amazing year – they were here at the beginning of pruning and again as we pick the sum of the year’s work.

We pick and sort and sample brilliant grapes and we’re beaming. The whole lot is relaxed and focused, and dare I say it, fun? The fruit arrives steadily, bursting with flavor, life and energy. This is the essence of harvest.

I arrive with the first fruit at the winery and more cockatoos scoop in for a greeting. The whole world is talking, and I’m smiling as I listen.

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Taste of Autumn

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Taste of Autumn

I'm getting a taste of Autumn here, deceptive for a New Englander in this hot climate, but change is in the air. I plod through the emptied chardonnay vines amidst the yellowing leaves and am transported to New Hampshire and the White Mountains. I've got a touch of melancholia and vintage isn't nearly over. Everything transforms. The seasons streak by too quickly to catch -- what is born, dies, to be reborn in a different form. Likewise the wine, memory of what preceded, is translated into something new, captured living and changing in the bottle.

Will my offspring succeed me? Will what follows match the effort expended? Does my stand matter overall? At a certain point in inebriation, and, I imagine, at the point when I die, letting go of my attachment to everyone and everything so that I can move on, will anything matter at all?

A cooling wind has risen off the sea and is shuddering through the peppermints. I stand in the gentle rain of thin purpled fragrant leaves and see signals of endings everywhere. The light is dampening and I’ve only begun. 

Last night I saw a mother kangaroo and her joey hopping across the road and to my horror the oncoming car didn’t stop until it had nicked the joey. I saw it struggling up the hill, mother zigzagging in panic. They disappeared out of sight and I was left with a dread in my heart. Could it survive that? If it did, what would it’s future be like? Was it suffering? Clearly its mother was, and I still am.

Such thoughts must be consequences of the hour and of the time.

It’s the turning of the season, the waning of the light. Dawn arrives noticeably later, and darkness falls earlier. I can smell rain on the wind, feel the prayer of the expectant parched earth. Those unbearably hot days are mostly behind us. The harvest moon is waxing towards fullness, the Cabernet is ready to come in.

In the US I’d be hearing Canada geese winging southward, the crunch of dead leaves, apple spice in the air. Endings are new beginnings. Wine is this moment, captured. The year lives in the bottle. Autumn is the death that sets up rebirth. I taste the bitter in the sweet, the dark in the light.

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Malbec 2014

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Malbec 2014

It's the quiet moment after sunset when the world is tucking itself in and the night creatures are coming up to speed. There's a perfect swell on after days of doldrums and the sea is roaring a bass hello. I've parked the truck and trailer, both laden with bins for tomorrow's pick and I'm saying goodnight and farewell to the Malbec. There's the deepest purple glow in the West and a purity to the darkness, with the stars beginning to wink on in the moonless gloaming. I'm reviewing the past growing season as it morphs into its culmination with an uneasiness I can neither explain nor shake.

A dry dusty heat continues to rise off the dirt, despite the darkness. Summer is lingering on. The grapes taste delicious, but the crop is tiny -- we have made a tremendous effort for just a small amount of grapes. My mood has been shaped by the employment of the past few days -- cutting off raisined bunches and individual berries that have been burnt up by the relentless sun. It's reduced our low yielding crop significantly. We dance across harvest’s tightrope balancing the success of creating exquisite fruit with danger -- the paucity of return.

I trudge my way back home across the stubbly field, in a great quiet, punctuated by the sea’s susurration. When I reach the edge of the dried streambed, a coolness rises off the earth and resuscitates my spirits. I look up at Jupiter sprawled comfortably in the vast sky and breathe again. I see in that instant how thoroughly wrapped up I've been in business and other compelling concerns causing separation. I will myself to shift into gratitude for the harvest, for this place, my life filled with blessings, my family, friends, well-being.

Later, I rise in darkness and make my way back to the vines. I hear a Roo clippity-clopping in the obscurity. The slightest breeze like earth's exhalation carries a promising dampness. I smell grasses and peppermint and salt. The entire sky is dotted with a gazillion stars and the Sea is clapping and snapping and singing. And when I get into the vineyard open, Mercury and Venus and Saturn and Jupiter ride the moonless sky.

I free the nets and start them rolling. The crew yawns in and we set to work by headlamp, and as the daylight spools in, in come the pickers with their smiles and earnestness. I kneel in the first row and snip a bunch, which I offer to the land, the ancestors, the gods of this place and of wine, and then we all get stuck into it. We work as the light comes in and the sun winks through the trees and the bins fill up and our sweat arrives.  

My family trickles in, along with some well-wishing friends, and the bittersweet feeling returns. Another year, another year, another year. All that effort distilled into a bin. The taste of 2014, as manifest through Malbec. Life in all its magic marches on, and we with it.

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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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Wheelbarrow Races

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Wheelbarrow Races

This year has been characterized with a huge focus on hand weeding but I was still floored to learn that we had spent over 400 hours at it this season, and that we aren’t finished. That’s an incredible amount of effort for such a small vineyard. Most of it occurred in the new plantings, particularly the cabernet sauvignon, undoubtedly a result of our disturbing the soils. We dealt with thistles, sorrel, kikuyu, bracken fern, and were absolutely hammered with nightshade, but there was also a smattering of an insidiously clever weed Emex australis, an immigrant from South Africa. I took bins and bins of it to the tip.

It goes by various names-- double g, goathead, cathead, three cornered jack. It’s a low growing annual that sends prostrate stems bearing clusters of spiny fruit. These burrs are three-spined and designed for maximum dispersion, constructed in such a way to inevitably imbed itself in anything that touches it. I’ve run barefoot in the field and been categorically stopped in my tracks like a tank in a tank trap. These babies know how to penetrate and they hurt.

So once the weeds had been pulled, making vast piles at the edges of the vineyard, I decided to reduce the possibility of future proliferation, by deploying six semi loads of ground up tree mulch. I couldn’t have picked a hotter dustier day for this work!

We spread it by hand, of course, wheel barrowing the mulch, section by section, utilizing forks, and rakes and gloves. We were sweating.

And that’s where the double g caught us. That insidious little bugger was waiting to puncture our wheels. Four of us spread mulch for three days and I ended up changing six tires and and four inner tubes before I finally found some industrial strength tires as replacements… If I had started with those tires in place, though, I wouldn’t be as proficient as I am now in wrenching the wheels off the wheelbarrow, popping tire off the rim, yanking the inner tube, replacing a fresh one, pumping it up and ratcheting it back on.  In the Indy 500 of wheel barrowing, I’m king of the pit crew.

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Right Livelihood

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Right Livelihood

I worked hard in the heat today and when I knocked off, sucked down a couple of apple beers to quench an unbelievable thirst. It knocked me for a loop – I had to lie down, and when I awakened it was as if my brain had been scrubbed clean. I had to return from pretty far away, and it made me uncomfortable.

The Buddha instructed that one should not take intoxicating substances because it causes heedlessness -- a dumbing of awareness, a loss of connection with the world, a harmful obliviousness. But with wine I notice a connection, a loss of separateness, a feeling of wholeness, a warming rush of feeling, the love space. Certain unimportant distinctions blur and drop out, a commonality is reached, and there’s always the promise of ecstasy, of the overarching feeling of the “allrightness” of everything that I find positively spiritual.

It’s the next morning that’s the worry. I’ve drowned myself in water, gotten intimate with my coffee apparatus, dunked in the sea… But it’s always a journey back. 

I wish this washed out state was the state of no thoughts, not slow thoughts.

A quiet mind is a worthy place. But this represents a disquiet and, yes, of course, it’s got me thinking about samyag ajiva, or “Right Livelihood”, the fifth of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha cautioned all to make a living without doing harm to others. Wine is an intoxicant, which the Buddha said should be avoided. (Of course Trungpa Rinpoche and others would take exception…) But can I do this work without it being a source of suffering for others? 

I “do no harm” to the environment, to those who work here, to the spirit of the land.

Our practices will pass pretty rigid scrutiny. But when the wine leaves my hands, what of it?  

I dream of Cloudburst singing in your throat, of it lifting you up to your highest most conscious place, of it enlivening your day, your conversation, your insight. I hope it takes you to the love space. May it do you no harm.

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Guinea Fowl Update

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Guinea Fowl Update

Of the original keets, a total of 11 survived out of the 20 placed with our clucky duck, Peepling. All the little ones mysteriously perished.  Luckily, we kept a newly hatched keet in the house in a cardboard box with a hot water bottle that my son assiduously filled and refilled, eventually replacing it with a desk lamp bearing a sixty watt bulb. He was pretty tiny and very weak. My wife suggested we put him out of his misery, but he recovered and slowly put on weight and feathers.

One day I came in from the vines to find him strutting proudly around. He had learned to fly and made it out of the box. Then he started following me around.

I didn’t get it at first, but after awhile I understood that I was his Peepling. This amused me no end, and I was happy to let him perch on my shoulder while I puttered around. But eventually finding his “messes” got to me after long days in the vines and I decided to cage him in a lovely little birdcage I found in the shed.

Bad move. This infuriated him, or made him anxious. He’d call and pace in clear frustration. Whenever he could see me, he’d calm down. When I’d leave, he’d tweet and peck and carry on incessantly. So I’d take him out of the cage, plop him on my shoulder, open my laptop, and he’d calm right down. The moment I tried to place him back in the cage, though, he’d squawk a blue streak, and as the days proceeded, and he devoured his feed, it became increasingly difficult to get him through the narrow cage door. 

So I built him a pen, utilizing a couple of pallets, chicken wire and some leftover tin for a roof. I positioned it adjacent to the Guinea Fowl pen so that the flock would get used to him and he to them. We had one last sweet night together.

The next day, I rose at dawn and popped him into the enclosure. He raced back and forth piteously calling for me. Peepling waddled over and whistled and scolded at him and tried to peck at him through the wires. Uh oh. I suddenly had some misgivings about Peepling. This wasn’t gentle mothering -- it looked entirely like something else.

So I decided to look for some companions for him and found three “teenagers” from a nearby grower. I consigned one to join him in the cell and placed the other two in with Peepling and the flock. Instantly Peepling flew at the newcomers, pecking and harassing them. Oh boy. I opened up their enclosure letting all the guinea fowl out into the fenced orchard, along with Peepling, and herded the two newcomers back into the vacated enclosure. Peepling tried to peck at them through the enclosure. Uh oh again.

After a few days of separation, I took my child guinea fowl, (who purposely doesn’t have a name so that I don’t reciprocate any attachment, being the hard hearted farmer that I am), along with his cellmate, I mean new boon companion, and tossed them in with the other two. These four spent the next several days pacing the perimeter of the pen, only to be pecked or billed by Peepling who set herself up within range of the pace track.

Today, when I was feeding them, though, I saw Peepling reach through and grab my child fowl and shake him, and that was enough. I chased her into a corner and grabbed her before she could flee, unlocked the enclosure and shooed the four young birds out into the flock, then tossed Peepling in alone and locked the door.

All day long she has alternated between a sentry position on the little shed and a sniper pecking position at the fence when her charges, augmented by the four, come by for a chat. She is still determined to harm the four newcomers.

Meanwhile my child fowl is not faring particularly well. I have seen him get pecked by random jealous chickens, and he definitely is the runt of the crew, lagging behind the others and seemingly not an attentive feeder. I call out encouragement to him and importune him to feed, to watch out for beaks and spurs, but he is ignoring me.

At one point I felt I needed to rescue him, but he eluded me and fortunately joined the flock where there’s a modicum of protection.

I must “release” him, he has left my nest, but even now, sitting in the farm kitchen with windows wide, my ear is bent and I’m interpreting every squawk, chirp and call like a nervous sad parent.

In retrospect, Peepling must have murdered the other little ones. Next time I’ll put those eggs under a clucky hen.

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