Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Why Walla Walla?

So there is some sanity to the decision to buy a farm four hours from home near a small city near the borders of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Not much sanity, but some. We weren't thinking about the explosion of wineries and restaurants. It was always about the land. But Walla Walla itself was always a key component in the blend. Good hospitals. Three universities. Beautiful old homes and amazing specimen trees. A town quite a bit older than Seattle, actually, with deep roots going back to Lewis and Clark.

Not being farmers, we didn't originally understand the value of the soil. The views, the open spaces, the amazing privacy just five minutes from a good supermarket...nothing hard to understand about that. Open to the world, but not lost in the crowd. That sums it up!

I used to hang around with the old farmers in Greece, fishermen too, and feel a calm coming from them. Many of these men had left Samos for Australia or to work on merchant ships and cruise ships for years upon years, just so that they could afford to come home and never leave again. Sure, they might visit cousins in Melbourne or in the Bronx, but they always knew where they were home. Some of them used the spigot at my house to run their water lines to their tomatoes and apricots and courgettes. After I did some work for them, word got around about Mikalis at Pirgalakis and how he did the work of five men. I liked that about myself and I liked the way they would come around in the morning to fetch me for more jobs or how they came by in the evening for a glass of ouzo. I worked for Eftiki one week, picking his grapes. He spread rough sheets on the ground and would make three piles. The biggest pile was for the Cooperative that would crush his grapes into vats with other juice from other growers. The second, much smaller pile was for his friends...bigger, better bunches. The last pile was very small. These were the choicest bunches meant just for his family. On the last day of picking, Eftiki gave me that last choice pile to take home for myself.

It takes years of forethought to plan and grow a vineyard. What will grow well in each area. What is the right balance of sun and canopy. Knowing the right spacing of the vines, when to water, when not to water. How to prune and when to train to the next wire. Getting good dryland wheat means thought and study, understanding moisture levels, fertilizers, and herbicides, too. Managing the land and the crop.

It is humbling to come from the big city to Walla Walla. In the city, I know my way. In Walla Walla, I need to listen and to learn. There is so much to learn...I am constantly making mistakes that no farmboy of twelve would ever make. But the rewards are huge, and I have the time and space to enjoy the moments as they come.

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