In 1978, my father and I planted five acres of Alicantes, a wine grape prized by home vintners for its dark-red juice, and five acres of Emperors, a seeded red table grape that ripens in October. We had grown both varieties before. In fact, my father and his father planted their first twenty-acre Emperor vineyard in 1946, just after the Second World War. They planted five more acres in 1957, and ten acres of Alicantes in 1964.
During the 1970s, Alicantes brought a good price � hence our decision to plant another five acres. Emperors were also doing well, though they are less popular these days due to the development of new varieties that don�t taste as good but are �convenient� because they have no seeds.
The young vines were beautiful. At the end of their first growing season, we ordered stakes for the Alicantes, and stakes, end posts, cross-arms, braces, and wire for the Emperors. After the vines were pruned that winter, we drove in the stakes, one for each vine, and, with the help of a neighbor, set up the trellises and stretched the wire for the Emperors. Everything looked great.
When spring arrived, the vines picked up right where they left off. We trained them on the stakes. Within a couple of months, each was a healthy-looking vertical bush, and new growth was heading off in every direction. The leaves, I remember, were enormous.
Then, it happened. Here and there, we noticed that some of the vines had stopped growing. Before long, the leaves took on a sickly color and began to fall. The problem spread rapidly. More and more of the vines were affected. With some frantic research, we learned the vineyard was falling victim to something called Pierce Disease, and that there was nothing that could be done. The disease was spread by an insect known in agricultural circles as a �sharpshooter.� Sharpshooters lived in pastures. There was a pasture that bordered our property. When a sharpshooter stung a young vine, the vine, being so vigorous, quickly transported the disease throughout the plant.
That summer we lost the entire vineyard. Using a pair of long-handled pruning shears, I undertook the grim task of cutting down each vine. Then we pulled out the stakes, rolled up several miles of wire, and dismantled the new trellises. We plowed out the vines and were left with ten acres of open ground, a mountain of metal and lumber, and a sizeable hole in our wallet, not to mention our future income.
The following spring, we did what farmers always do: we planted something else. This time, we planted five acres of peaches and five acres of apricots. The trees did well. The new orchards were a success � though, wouldn�t you know it, the first apricot crop was ruined by a spring hailstorm. On the bright side, we made a lot of good-tasting jam that year.
And, so it goes. Now I grow tomatoes in the backyard. And, so help me, every time I am out there amongst them, I think of my farming days. I think of my father and of all the things he taught me. Everything is there: the crazy, not always pleasant memories; the soil, the green growth, the sky, the slowing advancing season; the happy-sad continuity of life here on earth; the odd knowledge that my stay here will come to an end someday, and that, no matter how hard I try, something will be left undone.
Also by William Michaelian
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
80 pages. Paper.
Signed copies available
A Listening Thing
Among the Living
No Time to Cut My Hair
One Hand Clapping
Songs and Letters
Early Short Stories
Cosmopsis Print Editions
News and Reviews
Favorite Books & Authors
Flippantly Answered Questions
E-mail & Parting Thoughts