When I got home from school today, Joe and I went out to feed. I rode on the back of the truck dropping hay flakes into the frost-bitten meadow for the cows as the wind picked up the chaff and whirled it around my head. Although it was from the north, the breeze was gentle, and there’s a promise of spring in the green blush creeping up the sides of the hills. I haven’t heard the peepers yet, and it’s not officially spring until the peepers sing. I have, however, heard the robins as they wheel in from the south. Like all critters, they have more than one thing to say. So far, I’ve heard the peek and tut of an agitated robin, another one singing a morning song (which sounds like “wake up birdy, wake up, wake up birdy, birdy”), and a lusty male claiming territory as he announces shrilly that spring is finally here. I wish he were telling the truth, but the fickle weather is calling for snow flurries.
I went out last Monday to trim my grape vine. It’s a chore I usually do a little earlier in the season, but the snowy weather sort of put me out of the mood. When the maple trees finally woke up and started pumping out sugar water, I realized I had better get the job done before it was too late.
I learned to trim grapes from my good neighbor Rudolf. His home place is a mile deep into a hollow across from our house. In early September when the spicy smell of grapes hung like a purple haze in the autumn air, he used to call and invite us to share in his mother’s bountiful harvest. I always made Joe drive us over because the little wooden bridge to Cliffie’s house was only three inches wider than our car and the boards jumped and rattled alarmingly as we crossed. There were four gates on the driveway, and each one had to be opened and shut to keep the cows from roving. Three were off their hinges and had to be dragged across the hard ground. Finally, we would pull up to Cliffie’s tiny white frame house tucked into the chin of a friendly hill. The grapevines were full of purple, red and white grapes. Purple for juice, red and white for jelly.
While we picked, Cliffie, who was by that time legally blind, would sit on her porch in the afternoon sun and entertain my boys by barking like a dog. Even though she could only see shadows, she always insisted on coming down the steps to help with the picking. The grape juice from her vines always seemed sweeter because of her happy laugh.
Cliffie died about eight years ago, but Rudolf still tends her vines and several years ago, when mine finally got large enough to bear, he taught me how to trim them. Before the sap rises, you must go out and trim the long leaders back so they each host no more than two plump pink buds. These will send out sturdy shoots to hold the heavy clusters. If you don’t trim the vines, the harvest will be slim. I got mine done just in time.