Don’t you know how sweet and wonderful life can be?
by Francis Fecteau
The first scents of fall crept in with a cold August rain, provoking an oddly sad, remorseful contemplation; a song on the radio. The passing of Sam Weller coupled with the anniversary of my Mother’s passing had bruised the horizon.
The absence of those who’d colored my universe with the literary likes of Bellow, Malamud, Cheever and such drained me of my essential color, leaving only agitation. My response? Movement. The need to be away was upon me. Clarity was not to be had in the glare of daily routine.
Once the idea of a journey enters the mind, it’s not easily shaken. The body craves what it needs before the conscious mind gets the marching orders. It’s the nut of all great narrative; protagonist encounters obstacle(s), goes journeying in search of clarity, lightness and resolution.
But as August wore on, I didn’t leave. I was even a little afraid to go. Fear is deceptive, after all. Routine and Imagined Obligation duped me into thinking that September in Utah was heaven on earth. (It is). There was no end of excuses to stay; a need to “catch up” (to what?), a need to ride the beloved Colnago and make up for lost mileage, a need to sit in the garden beneath the allemanda, dozing, surrounded by the aromas of lavender and basil and smoke rolling in off the hills.
My brilliant subconscious instincts for self-sabotage, meticulous in their slow-reveal assault on my weaknesses, accounted for the noteworthy dearth of willing women in my apartment by veering from a libidinal appeal to oral fixations; a bottle of Caymus’ “Special Selection” Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($109) kept me company. Describing the wine is pointless; it needs a better picture, let’s say the opening mwah-wah-wah bassnote cymbal-crash from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” …while smearing the wine into your skin. “I’ve been really trying baby, trying to hold back this feeling for sooooo long”…sing along…you know the words. I’ve never claimed to be a “strong” man, just a self-indulgent one.
At last I felt a desire to get to the throbbing heart of the matter. I packed my “reads,” two from the Sam Weller’s basement, rich with mustiness and marginalia as all great Weller’s editions are, and one I’d swiped back from my mother. One should never travel without intellectual companionship. Some call it overpacking, I call it thoughtful travel.
Lashing myself to the Prius, I left Salt Lake City on a quiet sunny Sunday. I pointed the car west, stopping for a quick hangover catnap outside the pulsing neon landfill known as Wendover before forging on. There is not much to see between Here and There; only daydreams populate the landscape-prisons and nuclear waste are a natural for western Nevada. For long hours of desert I scolded myself, congratulated myself, regretted things done and not done, I penned a sentence or two, conducted a symphony, and occasionally, I let go with a roar of encouragement to my beloved flailing Yankees. They flailed, I roared. The road went on.
I entered the Sierra Nevadas by moonlight and a sigh. By the time I broke through the Cloverdale fog at 4 a.m., some 14 hours of road time later, the sweet smells of sun-warmed fruit flooded the car.
It was a crisp clean late summer night and the winery’s guesthouse (my getaway, my panic hole) felt that deep-sigh kind of safe (much the way a small part of me is always glad to return home to where my stuff is) with only the chirp of crickets and the odd bray of a goat on the near hillside punctuating the evening’s calm.
Dismay doesn’t reside in Mendocino, not for me, nosirree; it’s a Brigadoon where such things are not allowed. All the necessary proof was in stepping barefoot onto the mulch between the rows of an old organic Pinot Noir block, eating sweet sunbaked grapes and sipping an ethereally tingly bubbly (Chartogne Taillet “Cuvee St Anne” Brut NV $46) while staring up at a smattering of stars.
I don’t know if it was the absorbing expanse of the night sky, the sweet grapes or the crisp night air but I confess that I welled up. I was exhausted, wrung out, missing people, places and things long gone and never been, then suddenly it passed, exhaled into the spray of stars above; and then? It came easy. Happy, smiling, floating, humming -“I’ve been really trying baby, trying to hold back this feeling for soooooo long.” Sing along-you know the words.
Francis Fecteau is a wine educator and the author of “e-Libation,” an online wine newsletter. firstname.lastname@example.org. He lives in downtown Salt Lake City.