In Northern California it is early autumn and it is unfolding beautifully. We are experiencing cool nights in the 40s F. (4 C.), occasionally in the 30s (-1 C.). Days are warm when the sun shines…and it almost always does. About 75 F. (23 C.).
One of the biggest events right now is the grape harvest. Wine grapes are harvested at different times, depending on many things; but many are picked in the early fall before the rainy season arrives.
Large trucks labor up and down the small highways bearing big open boxes of grapes. Most of us have spent our share of time patiently sitting behind these slow-moving trucks on impassable roads. I use that time to look at the sun glistening on each purple jewel.
The wine harvest attracts many visitors to the area, lured by the slick marketing of vineyards with their festive “stomps”, release parties, and energized tours. I drove through Napa County yesterday and counted six hot air balloons languidly suspended overhead, another popular tourist draw in autumn.
Every weekend there are animated harvest celebrations going on with gourmet food, live music, and free-flowing wine.
Other harvesting that goes on here, to a far lesser extent, are apples and pumpkins. I also see persimmons and figs on trees.
Local Farmer’s markets have tables piled high with colorful peppers of all kinds, table grapes, heirloom tomatoes, and plums. The waning summer harvests are still yielding green beans, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, eggplants. Squash are coming out now, too.
We have had two short rains recently, so the autumn dry grass is not quite as intimidating as in past years. The anniversary of the raging 2017 wildfires is next week, and we are frequently reminded that we’ve now entered “Fire Season.” We hope for rain and work on ways to protect our families and homes.
Wildlife is shifting at this time of year, with the bird migration underway. A few species are coming in to settle here for the winter, and more will arrive as the temperatures up north cool.
I await the arrival of the sandhill cranes, due in about a month, if we get rain.
Other birds like hawks and warblers are passing through from the northern parts of the continent as they travel to their summer homes in Mexico, Central and South America.
I’ve seen numerous flocks of swifts and waxwings in the past few days.
Due to the hot days, the reptiles can still be seen during the day when it’s warm. I saw a snake track on my morning walk yesterday, and was reminded of the thick rattlesnake I almost stepped on recently on the same path.
Lizards skitter as always in the heat, but now there are many little ones, smaller than my pinkie.
Chipmunks, squirrels, and jays are busy burying acorns, and woodpeckers are boisterous and frequent in the oaks. Several acorns fell out of the blue oaks above me this morning, acorn woodpeckers are on the move.
Tall grass is blonde and beautiful. The soil is so dry it is powder. Deciduous trees are starting to lose their leaves.
Other than the scent of dry vegetation, the distinct and common smell of vinegar is in the air. As the grapes are being picked and processed, the smell of freshly crushed grapes and fermentation are pungent. You can smell it everywhere in the valleys.
Both the big wineries and the small boutique wineries are bustling. Residents who grow and make their own wine have purple-stained fingers. This is a small grape press of a neighbor’s.
I breathe in the smell of “the crush” with great reverence, and fervently hope we will be spared the wildfires this year.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.