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The Birds Will Tell You

Five years ago I took a cutting from a friend’s champagne grapevine and managed to successfully cultivate it in my front yard. Make sure you get enough root and give it something, like my chain link fence, to grow on. The first year, no grapes. I wondered if maybe I needed two vines so they could make plant love in order to bear fruit. But the next year proved that to be untrue and I delighted in watching the tiniest baby grapes form a few meager clusters. When Autumn rolled around and they turned almost black they were so purple, I ate them with gusto, happily spitting out the seeds that I had forgotten were a part of them in our sad seedless day and age. The seeds seemed so big because champagne grapes are so small. I soon remembered all the good things I had heard about their potent antioxidants and went from spitting them out to crunching them down. Year three was a bountiful one. First year sleeping, second year creeping, third year leaping! The vine was covered with dense clusters of deep amethyst orbs and like the crows, I watched them grow all summer. I wanted to harvest them at Samhain, and leave a bunch on a plate set out for my Beloved Dead on the Ancestor Altar. Autumn came and as it chilled, I came home each day and eyeballed the taut, tantalizing treats, growing fatter as their color deepened. And then one day in early October, I came home to an empty vine! The birds had feasted. Not a grape left in sight. Lesson learned. Harvest when the fruit is ready, don’t wait for a special occasion. Last year I was so worried that the birds would rob me again that I took them in way too early. They had just turned purple, most of them anyway, but I was determined to have my harvest, sour or not. Well, yes, sour. Very sour. Can’t eat them sour. They sat on a plate on the windowsill looking pretty until before long they began to wrinkle. I let them dry out for weeks and at Yule ate the raisins. Not bad. If you like crunchy raisins. But the sour had turned to sweet with an afterglow of tart. And at least I was the one to feast on them. This year? The vine is loaded with grapes! Fat clusters everywhere you look. The cool, wet spring gave them a great start and the vine itself must have grown about six feet in each direction. The last few weeks I’ve been sampling them, slowly getting sweeter. The other day I ate one that was pure sugar on my tongue. I'll harvest them this weekend. I’ve been thinking that I will search for a recipe and try to make champagne with them this year. Today was one of those gorgeous Autumn days, cool, crisp with that quality of sunlight only this time of year offers. I was looking outside my front window when I spotted a beautiful Flicker sitting motionless on the top of the fence. It struck me how still she was and I peered more closely to see her marvelous markings, the red swath of color on her head, the hint of orange by her wing. And then I saw them! A flock of Flickers, all over the vine, guzzling my grapes. She must have been standing sentinel for the rest. The sound of my front door being flung open caused them all to flee. I didn’t even need to yell “Oh, no you don’t!” because they were already gone. I ran to get a basket and my clippers. This year I got it right. The Birds told me. And as I listened to them complain in the branches of my lilac tree, I sang their praises, both the birds and the grapes, as my basket filled-literally- to overflowing. And I left a cluster or two to thank them for letting me know. The signs in Nature are clear to see when your eyes are opened to Her.

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