Shifting Skies

 

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Petaluma Gap under the full sun

When last summer’s solar eclipse came, we all shared the anticipation. The cosmic event roused giddy curiosity, far beyond what we might feel in the face of, say, a coming harvest. For months prior, I’d read about the eclipse. I’d followed diagrams charting its course. I’d listened to online lectured from my scientist uncle and other experts. Astronomers and astrologers agreed: We should expect big change.

Whatever happened that day, I’d be in the vineyards, as I had been for eight seasons. Though a few hundred miles south of the eclipse path, I’d still be close to the action, under the open sky, ready to witness and observe.

Instinct, however, told me to adjust my expectations. When did reality ever match the mind’s eye? As often as this element of surprise could be unsavory, I knew it could also be downright delicious. This was true in life. It was true in vines. While I’d never ventured further out into the universe, I believed it could be true there, too.

I tried to conjure this philosophy when, on that August morning, a layer of fog rolled in and blocked out the sky. Our eclipse will be just different, I shrugged. Besides, did a thing really need to be spectacular to be extraordinary?

I headed out at daybreak, as usual. My hatchback was packed with Ziploc bags, paper towels, and my indispensable refractometer. Until now, I’d walked the vines as manager of a small winery. Fruit sampling had always been my favorite part of harvest. As I juggled many other duties, sampling gave me time to slow down, engage my senses, and step in rhythm with the seasons.

But I’d just left that job, closing a formative chapter. Preparing for the next, there could be no better place for me to decompress than in the vineyard. Combing tidy rows of fruit, tasting what the day had to offer, I found a meditative flow that set the tone for these transitional days.

Over time, the lessons of sampling had revealed themselves to be lessons of life. I’d learned, for example, the importance of patience: You may think the grapes are ready, but just wait… they’ll get even better! I’d learned that things get very sticky—but the messiest part of life can be the tastiest. I’d learned that flavor is highly personal, so there is no right or wrong time to pick. Importantly, I’d learned to trust my gut, use my instinct. Instinct, indeed, had brought me this far.

 

What I also knew, but tended to forget, was the value of stillness. Running the winery had been so frenetic that calm was something I’d rarely had the privilege of experiencing. That day, at 10:14 a.m. on a hillside overlooking the Petaluma Gap, stillness struck me like a gentle gong.

 

Everything seemed to stop. The starlings that usually screamed across the vines went silent. Later, I’d learn that this perceived quietude was not my imagination. Elsewhere, onlookers would report that flowers closed their petals and cicadas ceased their songs. It was as though the skies had taken a very deep breath, then paused before the exhale. Surely the grapes noticed, too.

Who needs the drama of totality when you can have the subtlety of stillness?

In the midst of my life transition, I let go of the past, and starting thinking about the present and future. A new light emerged, a sweetness. The Chardonnay wasn’t quite ready—it still had another few weeks to go. But for me, the day felt ripe.

On my drive back to the winery, I saw countless folks stopped on the roadside, heads tilted hopefully toward the sky toward the pale glint of sun. They were all so eager to see the light. Looking toward the future, aren’t we all?

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