September 2008

Big Red Grapes Rolling

September 30, 2008 12:48

Last weekend I rode my bike in Big Basin State Park, an 18,000 acre enclave of old growth redwoods tucked into the Santa Cruz Mountains. As one might expect from mountainous terrain, I encountered hills. Steep hills, long hills, hills that never stopped climbing. The sun beat down, bathing me in sweat. The scenery was gorgeous but my quads ached, my butt hurt and I was out of breath.

I stopped finally after thirty minutes and irritably looked around. Gold sandstone hills, scrubby pines and chapparal had replaced the redwoods. The sky was a pitiless blue, no rain in months, potentially no rain for months. Not a gentle terrain, this. Once off the bike, I reached into my pack for water. To my dismay, my snack, a baggie full of grapes, came out too. I grabbed at the bag as it was falling, half-catching it, and watched a quarter of the contents tumble out. Red grapes everywhere. Firm, luscious, plump ones in the prime of their grape lives. I exclaimed in displeasure but it was already too late. They were dusty, they were history. Deciding there was no point in trying to retrieve the rolling grapes, I watched them instead.

The grapes had come alive. They were like kids released from school, pouring out the doors the moment the bell rang. Being on a steep hill, there was only one direction for them to go. Grapes, being grape-shaped, sort of wobble as they roll. Those on a right-side axis strayed off to the right. Others, on the opposite axis, wobbled uncertainly to the left before stopping. But a few grapes were perfectly situated to roll smoothly, in a straight line, down that hill. They would only stop, it appeared, when the hill stopped.

The end of the hill was a long way down.

They rolled and rolled. They raced. Soon, only three contenders remained. One rolling grape slowed, took a pothole and bounced to the side. The other two were still going strong. It was mesmerizing to watch. They became like tiny animals, slowing down occasionally to sniff at a pebble, a dead leaf, before continuing along their merry way.

Thirty seconds passed. Sixty. They became smaller and smaller, these two grapes, impossible to discern, at this distance, from live creatures. They looked like dung beetles, or tiny black field mice. One finally gave its last roll and settled into a crack in the gravel. The other moved on, on. My fatigue, my irritation, was forgotten. I was reveling in the freedom of this little renegade grape, until it, too, lurched to the right and took its final resting place by the side of the road.

I’m back at work today, still thinking about those grapes. I’m sure if I dig long enough I will find some parallel to the human condition, some correlation with the way I doggedly practice my violin each day—most decidedly the uphill ride—working my way through each scale, étude and assigned piece, often with more determination than pleasure. Maybe it’s the fiddle tune, then, that I’ll sometimes play instead, well aware that my fifty minute practice time affords little opportunity to play around with surplus tunes that merely bring pleasure, not increased technique or skill. Or maybe those little grapes represent all of us, spilled out onto the grand road of life, all with a destination of the bottom of the hill, and all, without exception, taking his/her own path and stopping at different places, unanticipated places.

I dunno. I just know that I got a kick out of watching those grapes roll down the hill. It eased something tight inside me, something I won’t—or can’t—ease up on my own. It made me remember how much bigger life can be outside the realm of the mind.

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