His teenage nephew, James, was a good worker but he came with a flaw; the kid hated to get up in the morning.
Nick harbors distaste over three particular human traits: thievery, irresponsibility, and envy. In his view, by having to be awakened in the morning, his nephew was being irresponsible. Couple that belief with Nick’s own personal quirk that for whatever reason makes him hate having to awaken someone in the morning, and you have the makings of a small friction. To impress upon his nephew both the need for personal responsibility and to ameliorate Nick’s personal quirk, he placed a stereo speaker right next to his nephew’s ear and when the time came for him to get the kid up, he simply turned on the radio and up the volume.
It worked. For the following ten days, as Nick and James worked the vineyard, neither had trouble getting up each morning at the prescribed time, which was 5:30!
The first day of work went rather well, as early April in the region experienced summer-like weather, which is one reason for starting out so early. You get a lot more done before the sun beats down on you and makes you want to sit under a tree or lie in the grass—anything but work hard. And with the weather being so damned beautiful, the scent of budding flowers makes it that much harder to work during the afternoon.
Their task was to pound the vineyard posts that react to the ground freezing in winter and thawing in spring by heaving out of the ground a few inches. For this job, which is a bear of a job, Nick had a wagon attached to the tractor. Inside the wagon was a removable raised platform, so that the person wielding the sledge was situated above the vineyard posts, to make the power of the downward hit onto the post doubly effective—they took turns pounding, doing a couple of rows at a time and then switching positions from pounder to tractor driver.
Nick’s method of pounding posts was rather old-fashioned, but it was necessary because it was the only method he could afford. Local grape growers and wineries had long ago invested in hydraulic post pounding equipment that was hitched to the tractor's power takeoff, that spinning universal-like joint that provides all the energy needed to run a variety of equipment, from plows to sprayers. The tractor is pulled up beside each individual post, the equipment is set over the post, the lever on the tractor activates the hydraulic, and the pounding begins. No human muscle is spent, except the effort to drive the tractor and move the levers, until of course something goes wrong, but that is a daily anomaly that goes with working the land.
The hydraulic post-pounding system is one of those things in life that raises one of Nick’s distastes: envy. The problem is that it’s he who often felt the envy of those who could afford the equipment. But the envy did do him some good. It made him conjure the image of that local banker's face and that gave him the motivation to keep swinging that sledge a little harder and landing it on the flat surface of the post top.
After the heavy work of pounding on day one, not feeling like cooking, Nick treated his nephew to a drive to the local pizza joint, where James managed to devour four slices of pizza and two calzones. This went into a kid with a 29 waist, and it was the second time that day that Nick felt a pang of envy. After dinner, they went back to the house, selected a movie from Nick’s files, and they each fell off to sleep while James Cagney shot up the place.
Day two started out rather well. The sun rose as it did the day before, promising yet another summer-like workday in April—until about mid way into their pounding. It started with a quick, cool blast of wind that swept from the west. For the first time, Nick saw James react to something with a twinge of fear. The wind wasn’t just quick and cold it brought with it a deep grey-ness and its own weather. They could see the weather coming at them, a seeming heavier air mass darkened by the falling of rain-ice; not hail, but something more sinister that carried heft as well as frigid water. It was like each drop was encased in a balloon that instead of rubber was constructed of ice.
The ominous weather that came at them pushed against the cumulous clouds, which, but a few minutes earlier, were all around them. Now, the cumulous clouds and the sun that joined them in the sky were situated east of Nick, James and the tractor. They were slowly but gradually being pushed toward the lake and out of the way by this front that moved in from the west. Within a few minutes, the whole vineyard, indeed the whole lake surroundings would be bombarded by the frigid downpour of heavy “icelets” and it behooved the two to quickly get the hell inside.
As they climbed up the stairs on the front porch, under heavy pelting, James, who had never experienced such a force of nature’s reversal asked Nick, “What is going on here?”
Nick tried to be philosophical but all he could come with was T.S. Eliot.
“James, have you ever read the poem The Waste Land? It isn’t about agriculture, but its first five words tells all you need to know about April in the Finger Lakes vineyards.
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Copyright Thomas Pellechia
April 2010. All rights reserved.