The joy of finding what you want, and finding that it is enough.
by Francis Fecteau
Of course you can take it, I don’t need it, here is where the sky is blue, here is where the birds sing!” Denholm Elliott, as Mr. Emerson in the movie version of EM Forster’s “A Room with a View,” thumps his chest and barks at his traveling companions, ladies carping about their lack of a room with a view, that they can take his room.
It’s a line that has played in my head for 20 years (and I am a young-ish man). It’s in my head as I am on the road, driving north to parts known and unknown, contemplating my past, my present, my future and the endless “what ifs” populating my imagination. Maintaining my usual internal dialogue of self-doubt takes some effort.
Summer was officially over and done on July 25th and an endless succession of stressors followed. A long gray line of nasty exes, nastier competitors and a dizzying array of small souls had left me gibbering and I, too, needed to find the place where the sky was still blue and the birds still singing.
But on this first day north, there was rain and it was fine, really…. fine, calming even. I spent the afternoon walking the rain-soaked streets of Healdsburg, California, enjoying the calm quiet drizzle en route to my final destination of Hopland. I drank coffee with cream. I sat in a parking lot outside the Oakville Grocery, eating lunch, listening to the dulcet tones of John Sterling calling that afternoon’s Yankee game. It was solitude and anonymity and the adolescent glee of escape from responsibility and I would not be found until I was damn good and ready. I kept breathing. It was enough and it was all I wanted. I looked for bottles unknown and unfamiliar-a man needs new flavors after all and I again headed north.
Showers alternated with sun the remainder of the afternoon and by the time I reached Hopland, the sun had broken through and set in a rose colored mist. My final reward was a night of solitude, a jetted tub, a glass of bubbles (Jeriko Brut 2005 $23-which is really starting to integrate and show terrific elegance) and my trusty iPod; no cellphone, no Internet and then finally, blissful disconnectedness, peace and quiet.
I needed respite not from a place but from an endless mind-numbing, skull fracturing white noise static of voices, beeps, whistles and rings. I needed to be curious, surprised, pleased-delighted, even. I cannot encounter the Calvinistic notion that this is something over which I have no effect; much as it did in boys’ school; the notion of “building character” still sends a shiver down my spine. Life is not an afternoon to be spent in a dentist’s chair and the search for blue sky and singing birds is perpetual. I will find my moments. And for all the itch to be elsewhere and away, in a few scant days it came to me that the plagues of home are not indigenous to home. Small souls, second-rate service and bad food are everywhere, yet here I was far from home; calm, serene, happy. The next day was spent tromping around the vineyard and barrel rooms, digging in the dirt, watching the planting of native vines, tasting my way through successive releases still in barrel, watching people so connected to their ever-improving sense of craft, that I was better for just being around them. Fast forward two days later.
I am staring at the moon-it’s blazing full and I am dead center in the Old Hill Ranch. There is a chill in the night air but I walk about in the vines bare-chested anyway. The smells of the vineyard are inseparable from the perfume in the glass (Bucklin “Old Hill Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon 2006-$25). Chopin plays on the cottage’s small stereo and I can’t think of anyone other than Dinu Lipatti painting the background colors for this tail end of my journey. It makes me remember the heart in my chest still beats, it’s God’s answer to Job, this night, and if there is a soundtrack to life, mine is beautiful.
It is quiet here at Old Hill and there is a moonlit glow to the night sky. Autumn is in the air and every now and again acorns drop on the deck with a knock. The acorns used to make me jump, but time spent in wildness such as this is soul-mending, there is an essential and serene necessity to it (go read your Thoreau again, he’s very very right, that time spent in wild places means salvation) and I can’t imagine California, or my universe for that matter, without this place.
Tomorrow I return, fight traffic and the whatnot, but for now I am content to hear the coyotes scream and yip in the distant night. Things will be fine tomorrow, but for now, I am here. The place chirps and squeaks with life all through the night, and were this to be my last 20 minutes, ever, I think to myself, I could have done much much worse.
Francis Fecteau is a wine educator, helping raise the popularity of organic and biodynamic wines in Utah. He publishes “e-Libation,” an online wine newsletter (sign on at email@example.com) and lives in downtown Salt Lake City.