The Year in the Vineyard: Autumn

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Harvest is over. No more the chatter of the pickers running to dump buckets brimming over with dark purple clusters into the large totes, or the rumble of the tractors ferrying the totes to the winery. The curtain has fallen on the final act, the climax of the year. The vines breathe a collective sigh of relief. Their work is done.

When the humans leave, the birds take over. Flocks of cedar waxwings, the Blue Angels of the bird kingdom, fly in perfect formation over the vineyard, settling discreetly on their chosen destination. By contrast, swarms of starlings appear, like a rambunctious mob, flying in haphazard jumble and communicating noisily.

Quail families march in single file into the vine rows, capturing the low hanging fruit. Robins join the plunder, cleaning the vineyard of unpicked grapes. The swallows, after raising their families in the vineyard all summer, sense it’s time to leave and start lining up on the telephone wires. One day they fill the wires; the next the wires are bare. The swallows have flown south.

Fall in the vineyard is moody. With the crop removed, the leaves start yellowing, as the vines begin the process of shutting down. On foggy fall mornings, the vineyard becomes an impressionist painting, the outlines of the vines blurred by a misty haze. Some days it anticipates dormancy with its somber silence. The only sound is the ruffling of the breeze through the vine canopy. Grey skies, vines dripping from overnight rain, and leftover grapes shriveling on the vine together foretell impending demise. Other days, sunny and warm, seem to offer one last exuberant fling as the sun bathes the vines, their leaves yellowed but still hanging on, with a golden glow.

Then, in late fall, the leafy canopy, so green and lush during summer, then vibrantly yellow, dries and wafts to the ground. The vines energy has been redirected underground. The crisp leaves, remnants of a once vibrant life, swirl in the wind as clouds increase, rain falls harder, and autumn turns to winter. With the leaves gone, the tangle of canes and withered grape clusters change the look of the vineyard from vibrant to stark, from rich multicolors to shades of gray and brown. The insects that kept the finches, bluebirds, and swallows active among the vines have disappeared. An occasional fresh gopher mound indicates life, but the animal remains hidden. The inevitable happens. The darkness of winter descends on the vineyard.

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