Friday, September 30, 2016

Out in the woods

Today we get a story, fun, and an observation.
A good friend, Pete, has a small vineyard in his back yard.  He grows about a ton of grapes each year and when harvest time comes around, it is an excuse to have a big party that he calls the “Grape Stomp”.   It is a big potluck and during the day much wine is consumed while people are given sharp instruments that are used to cut grape clusters from the vines.  Once the grapes are all cut, at previous stomps he has put out small tubs for the kids to stomp grapes in.  Each year, the kids get a little bit bigger and the bins look a lot smaller.

Pete has been seeing something a little bit more complex in his mind for the past couple of years.  He described it to me by saying that he wanted something like a floor and walls surrounding maybe a wading pool where people could stomp a little bit better.  He loves to have everyone participate. 

His description produced a picture in my head of a rickety little disposable framework surrounding a plastic pool where adults could walk on grapes for some time, maybe fall down a few times and have a laugh or two.  So we made a date to get this thing built.

The day before we were to stay, Pete picked up the wood and texted me the directions to the place where we’d be building it.  His friend would be helping us with it. 

I escaped work early, and followed his directions out into the country, to the end of a gravel road, down a long driveway bordered by electric cattle fences. I arrived at a 10,000 square foot fully equipped professional wood shop.  Turns out that Pete had enlisted the help of a master cabinetmaker who does a little bit better than simple rickety frames.  Pete’s friend is a perfectionist who uses nothing in the way of hammer and nails.  He works with beautiful reclaimed wood.  The cabinet maker was designing a rather unique grape stomping barrel.  Pet and I would be doing the work, milling reclaimed telephone pole cedar and reclaimed white oak into the sides and floor.  The cabinet maker would instruct and direct.  The barrel would be five feet in diameter and would be water tight, all made without use of a single nail or bit of glue.  We finished our own wood, routered it, sanded it and cut every single piece at a custom angle.  When it was done, it was an actual round circle.  It was beautiful!

It worked, too.  People had a ball stomping grapes in it and getting all purple.  The day was deemed a success and there were lots of photo opportunities for all of the partiers. 

Our project took me to places where the true backbone of the United States still resides.  In order to get wood, we visited a pallet maker.  She builds them out of old cedar telephone poles by cutting them up with a giant band saw into planks that are then sized and nailed together.  It is really hard work.  She does them by herself.  She is off the grid.  Try as hard as you can, you probably won’t find her.

We picked up some metal strapping to hold the barrel together from a similar business that custom builds gates and metal fencing.  And, of course, we did the project back in a spot that is completely out of sight.  These are people who aren’t voting in the current election.  They’re busy working.

These are people, though, who are the first ones to jump to your aid, to defend their country and protect our rights as individuals.  There is no negotiation prior to doing these things.  The folks that magically make pallets full of food and beer and products appear in the stores don’t ask for anything more than the selling price of their products.  That’s it.  No handouts are requested, no free benefits are needed.  Helping someone is just exactly that.  You never hear “What’s in it for me?”  They already know the answer. 

This is the backbone of the United States.  There are no races here and there is no difference between working men and working women.  Much of this backbone consists of immigrants and first generation U.S. citizens.  Their parents or grandparents studied and became U.S. citizens, and most were treated far worse than the immigrants of today.  They didn’t get welfare or free medical care and they had to take menial jobs to survive.  They learned to depend on their own resources because help was out of their price range.  Today they pretty much build our country. 

I really don’t think that most people realize just how amazing this subset of our country is.  They do still build things around here.  Pallets don’t come from pallet factories in Mexico.  Cabinets don’t all come from the sales floor at Home Depot.  Someone actually makes this stuff and then has to sell it.  Lettuce does not come from the lettuce factory.  And meat is not created already in the package.  Someone had to feed it, grow it and butcher it.  Those people aren’t well paid and they can’t afford a new iPhone every six months.  They pay for their own health insurance and don’t quite understand why we need free trade agreements with neighboring economies.  After all, we can build it ourselves if we put our minds to it. 

Ah, well.  Time to go home to my suburban house.  Time for a glass of wine while I sit and appreciate the fact that I crushed the grapes that made the wine.  With my feet.  Maybe.