Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Grape picking

The Big Blue Hippo
      GRANDVIEW, WA – I had no idea, but I’m a grape picking fiend. It’s such a joy when one discovers a hidden talent. Next, I’m going to try my hand at interior design. Or soap sculpting. I can’t make up my mind.

            The grape picking experience was provided courtesy of Curt’s sister, Deanna, who owns a six acre Concord grape vineyard. Concord grapes are the ones used in Welch’s Grape Juice. Welch’s is the best grape juice in the galaxy.

Deanna’s vineyard is a pick-your-own, pay by the pound farm. She doesn’t charge family, though. I chose not to tell her that the sister of the brother who married my niece would likely be considered unrelated. I believe that telling her that would be rude. Wouldn’t it be rude?

            I’m not sure you’re aware, but it doesn’t take all that long to pick all the grapes you want.  Curt, Rhonda, Kay and I picked a small portion of one row. Three of us missed a lot of grapes on the "picked" vines. Grape clusters can hide better than any fruit. You have to think like a grape to find ‘em.
We ended up with six crates loaded to the brim and beyond. Heavy, they were. A crate of Concords weighs over 40 pounds. That means Curt picked 120 pounds of a 240 pound pick. I really like Curt, but I’m sick and tired of how good he is at everything.

            Had we had a grape picking machine we would’ve made out like bandits. The only problem with a grape picking machine is cleaning the thing once you’re finished. After a harvest, a picking machine looks like a thick, syrupy, giant blue hippo… with a few more sharp-corners.

I'm a self-proclaimed expert on grape harvesters because of Curt. Everybody around here knows and likes Curt. He’s the guy you call at two in the morning when you’re stuck in the snow, or your porch collapses or your cow starts walking backwards. It's Curt's weird nature of helping others that makes people want to return the favor. One thing the owner of a massive vineyard across the road from us did, was let Curt take his aunt and uncle on a nighttime grape harvest.  

If you’re going to sell your grapes to a super market you can’t pick ‘em by machine, because the machine knocks the daylights out of the grape clusters. The harvester we rode did some serious shake, rattle and rolling as it moved down each row.

            The giant blue hippo straddled each row of vines. Rounded bars located in the belly of the beast defrocked the stems of each plant in the rudest manner imaginable. Everything that was knocked off the stems, fell onto a conveyor belt that runs right between the hippo’s feet. I don’t care if your cat was sleeping on one of those vines, it would end up on the conveyor belt purple, gooey and stunned out of its mind.

The more modern machines have vacuums that suck out the cats, rats and drunken birds. The machine we got to ride on had a guy at the top who picked out all of the leaves, stems and critters. He had to work fast. You can’t stop to scratch when you have that job.

I don’t know that much about wine making, but I just imagine that crushed critters would alter the taste of wine somewhat. – “Let’s see. It’s got a nice, nutty, sweet taste with perfect acidity and just a hint of cat.”

            I’m proud to say that no animals were killed when we did our picking at Deanna’s vineyard. Kay and I kept only a partial crate so we could experiment making grape juice… just like Welch’s. The worst part of the process is cleaning the stupid grapes. I spent hours out in the yard with a water hose, a five gallon bucket and a sheet of plywood. I would’ve rather washed and waxed an Abrams Tank.

After cleaning and de-stemming the grapes, I tossed them into a giant bowl, and Kay and I crushed ‘em in our hands. At some point during the squeezing, Kay discovered that Concord grapes contain an acid that blisters her hands. I was so mad that she was the first to think of it.

Next we had to filter the stuff, ‘cause it had the consistency of jam. In a perfect world, you filter unrefined grape juice with cheese cloth. – Let me stop right here and tell you that cheese cloth is not made of cheese. I was as surprised as you. I’d tell you what it is made of, but I’ve only seen the stuff on TV. Kay knows all about cheese cloth, but, apparently, never bought any.

We had to use our metal sieve. The thing has mesh with openings big enough to pass BBs through. We ended up with two quarts of really thick grape juice. It would’ve been so much better had it not been so bad. After drinking about three ounces of the stuff, my lips started burning. Then my tongue.

            Rhonda has a real grape juice maker. It’s a three level urn that steams the grapes and filters the juice into a pan. Yesterday, she gave Kay a quart of her grape juice. It’s terrific! Tastes just like Welch’s.

            Tomorrow evening we’re going to Bill’s Berry Farm to pick apples. Rhonda wants to make a few gallons of apple cider. I've never seen it done, but I surmise it will involve some brutality on some Golden Delicious apples. 

When Kay and I get home, I doubt we’ll get to apply much of what we’ve learned up here. Then again, my friend, Jerry Bernhardt, will probably want me to work at his winery near Plantersville. Unless he has a gigantic grape-cleaning and squeezing machine, I’ll not hire on. I’d rather get a job scraping barnacles off of shrimp boats.

Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com

Friday, November 3, 2017

Brain oddity

“My brain and other oddities”

               GRANDVIEW, WA –Today is the first day I’ve felt decent since returning from our Oregon vacation. I don’t know if I had an allergy or a cold. I told everyone at church that it was an allergy, because that’s what people want to hear. People really get mad at you when you share your cold.
In truth, doctors can’t even tell you if what you’ve got is an allergy or a cold. The symptoms are the same. Your nose leaks like a toilet with the handle stuck. You’ll likely end up with a sore throat and a cough that may last through mid-July.
            With either ailment, your friends will eventually turn on you. Your spouse will become more annoyed than sympathetic. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a room, sitting in a recliner surrounded by wads of spent Kleenexes. You’re holding a TV remote, but the TV hasn’t been on for hours. Your mind is entering another dimension, somewhere between light and shadow, between science and superstition… You’re both sick and over medicated.
            I tried three different cold and allergy medications over a period of a week. I gave each of them two days to work. One of ‘em was supposed to loosen my mucus, one was supposed to dry it up, and the third promised to do both.
One thing they were each good at doing was adding to my problem of irregularity. I wasn’t surprised, because it said so right on the box. “May cause constipation, diarrhea, headaches, nosebleed, a desire to jump off a tall structure, an unnatural craving for pancakes, a horrible fear of pancakes…”  If any of these symptoms occurred, I was to contact my doctor, immediately. Possibly meet him at I-Hop.
            I don’t know which medication worked, but one or a combination of ‘em did the trick. My nose quit running… as did my bowels. I also began having trouble sleeping. But Kay took care of that. About an hour before bedtime she gave me a melatonin pill, a “natural” calming agent that would help me sleep. If you stick the word “natural” on a quart jar of sand, you could stand outside Walmart and someone would pay five dollars for it.   
            But, let’s forget that. – I took the melatonin, and just like Kay said, after about an hour I began to get sleepy. So, I walked into the bathroom to brush my teeth before bed and found Kay standing at the sink getting ready to dry her hair. Seems she forgot to put on her shower cap before showering. I once stepped into the shower while wearing my left sock, so I was not taken aback by her behavior.
What did take me aback, way aback, was the sound of Kay’s hairdryer. The second she turned that thing on, it sounded as if I was standing on a runway next to a 747 that had just taken off. I stooped over, put my hands over my ears and yelled for Kay to turn it off, which she immediately did. Then she put her hand on my shoulder and asked what was wrong.
Turns out, her hand felt like a branding iron to my shoulder. I was going nuts. I didn’t like sound, didn’t like to be touched, and I wasn’t feeling all that happy about the light in the bathroom. I don’t know if it was the melatonin or the combination of everything I had taken during the week. Whatever it was threw my brain for a loop.
After apologizing to Kay, I staggered out of the bathroom, heading for the bed. Before climbing in, I located the earplugs that I wear while mowing the lawn, and plugged up my ears. Then I crawled into bed and put a washcloth over my eyes, because even in the darkened room light was somehow getting past my closed eyelids. The last thing I remember was the feel of Kay’s kiss on my forehead. It wasn’t nearly as painful as a branding iron.   
            That was the second weirdest thing that ever happened to me. I have read about people with autism who experience similar sensations, only it happens to them every day. I can now almost imagine what that would be like.
            At the moment, I’m right as buttered toast. I’m calm and collected. There’s no sound in this house that sets me off. I’ve always shunned bright lights, but I can sleep without eye cover. Best of all, I still love to snuggle with Kay.       
            Again, I’m not at all sure what caused my senses to elevate the way they did, but I’m glad it happened. If we are, indeed, the total of our experiences, I have grown a bit. And, I have more questions about the brain than I did before. If the neurons and all the other brain matter inside our skulls can immediately alter our thought processes… cause our feelings to turn on a dime, what does that say about who we are? Who we might be?     

            Could a doctor give me something that would make me fear butterflies? Cause me to like soccer? Make me give up Cheetos for pickled beets? Get me excited about polka music? Or get me to enjoy the taste of Smooth Move Tea? I really need to be hitting that stuff hard.

Mark can be contacted at hayter.mark@gmail.com.