The Joy of Home Winemaking

Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
September 1998

More Church, September 14

93 to 58 in Two Days, September 21

Vine Horror, September 29

Title of the Month: 99 More Maggots, Mites and Munchers

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More Church
Monday, September 14

Many of you will be surprised to know that I go to church regularly during the summer. The Metropolitan Community Church on the corner, in addition to occasional demonstrations and news cameras, has a lovely bed of petunias. In the late summer evenings I aim my walks for that bed in the hopes of seeing hawk moths.

Tonight I was rewarded. There were two of them in the dusk, darting busily over the flowers like tiny hummingbirds. Our warm season is lasting longer than normal here, which is why I am seeing the critters so late.

On my walks I enjoy what other people have done with their yards and houses. They've done the work; I benefit. If it's a trash house, of course, I try to ignore it and go only for the positive yards. Even one marigold counts.

It's something I practiced when I had my paper route in Berkeley back in the early 70s. Up in the hills, all was quite wonderful. There were some wild overgrown places, but they were still beautiful with ancient wisteria and blooming citrus gone gnarly.

The other places clearly had hired help at least part of the time. And I enjoyed it. All that fancy landscaping, those expensive roses, exotic shrubbery was all mine in the early morning hours. Except for the bits the deer were eating I was Queen of the Hills.

I loved being up there just as the sun broke over the East Bay Hills behind me. In summer I tried to time it so that I would be on the ridge just as the light hit the Golden Gate far across the Bay. In the winter I enjoyed the jewel-like lights of San Francisco. Magic.

The hills were fantasy land, full of animals, tame and wild, lemon trees, roses, hibiscus, poinsettias two stories tall. Up there, unlike down in the flats around Telegraph, people rarely tried to do me in. It was peaceful, beautiful, serene.

Even down in the flats near the University, along Durant, Channing, Telegraph, there were little pockets of garden hidden here and there in unexpected places. People had pots and baskets on their balconies, or little entry way gardens behind the locked gates. I could find a little gem of pansies or impatiens almost anywhere. I could also find a drunk passed out or a nut waving a broken bottle, but hey, the rough comes with the smooth.

Perhaps that's what my neighborhood is like—several places a row where someone is at least trying, then an island of scruffy dirt and broken toys. It's getting better. Every year things improve. I wonder, though, if I will appreciate the people who try as much when it all smoothes out and gentrifies. Will I get lazy and just expect everything to be pretty? Or will I still look for treasures, like the hawk moths?

Happy ides of September. Take good care of yourselves out there.


93 to 58 in Two Days
Monday, September 21

Wow, Saturday it was 93 and today's high is supposed to be 58! Last night, the cold front came in as I was watching a Discovery Channel program about octopuses, and rather than close the windows, I put an afghan over my bare knees. Talk about denial. . . .

The trees are looking a bit ragged, and some are discretely dropping leaves while pretending it's still summer. A few maples have started to color up, but not seriously, merely flirting. Children are playing out of doors as much as possible to store it up for winter. Squirrels are being single-minded about burying food.

The tomatoes have borne a lot of fruit this year, and because of the late hot weather, I won't have many green tomatoes. Some years I've had the last one or two ripen on a windowsill just in time for Thanksgiving.

Most of the flowers are still blooming, however the zinnias are definitely past their prime and getting mildew. Marigolds and petunias will continue till first frost—they know no fear. The nasturtiums that reseeded themselves from last year still seem happy, but they have a nice concrete porch as a heat sink. The asters I planted this year are blooming very nicely, in among the weeds. For reasons unknown the chrysanthemums are late, and I might not get much bloom out of them.

And of course, the volunteer winter squash is still cheerfully producing fruit as it takes over the front porch.

Every year I look for the demarcation line between the two seasons, summer and fall, but there isn't really a single one. It's a series of steps that accumulate like, well, a pile of leaves.

Some people find it strange that I care that much about the seasons and their circular progress but I find it strange that others don't care at all. Life is short and mysterious.

I guess I just like to play in piles of leaves.


Vine Horror
Tuesday, September 29

Tore up the volunteer squash vine because it was on its last, uh, tendrils. Squash borer had gotten it, as well. It had given me three good squashes for free, so that was good.

To get it from the front to the compost heap in the back I had to drag it down the narrow passage along the north side of the house. Halfway down the passage I met Dover the cat coming in, headed for the side door.

He stopped dead at the sight of me and the rustling, crackling, six-foot long green mildewing tail I had suddenly grown. Even though I tried to reassure him it was OK and not dangerous ("See, Dover, just leaves. . . .", he backed up the way he had come, alternately staring at me and then beyond me at the Horrifying Whatever. Fur rose, back arched and his eyes went wild.

With a normal cat I would assume it was Drama for Drama's Sake Time. Cats have a great sense of drama. But this is Dover the Clueless we are speaking of here. I once moved a porcelain statue of a gorilla from a place he hadn't been able see it to the landing on the stairs. A normal cat would have been curious for a few seconds, then ignored it. Not Dover. It took him nearly fifteen minutes to ascertain it was not alive.

Back on the lawn he continued backing up in the direction I needed to go, to the point I was afraid the old guy was gonna have an infarction. Up on his tippy toes and twice his normal size, he growled menacingly at the sea monster that was sneaking up on me.

I finally had to cast the vine to one side and herd the cat past it, safely through the passage and into the side door, to avoid having him turn inside out in Wild Surmise. Took him quite a while and several cat treats to get over the experience.

Perhaps deep in his tiny brain Dover does have a sense of Drama, like other cats, but he has so few brain cells that when the Drama button is pushed, it overrides everything else. On the other hand, being so close to a vegetable himself, it could just be that he would expect mayhem from a squash vine.

Next year, I'll make sure he's safely inside before the Squash Dragon rides again.

Hope all is well, and those of you in the way of Georges are all safe.


Of Juice and Thrips and Ceiling Wax
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Copyright 1998 by Terry A. Garey.