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In Memoriam of Mary Oliver

 

 

letters
Collection of my correspondence with poet Mary Oliver

Among my greatest treasures collected over the years are the postcards and letters of correspondence I had received from poet Mary Oliver.  At the time, they were mostly purposeful in assisting me in my application process for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing – Mary had agreed to be a reference for me.

Mary Oliver was generous with her students.  I had the rare privilege to be among the small group of women she taught at Sweet Briar College in Virginia in the mid-1990’s.

back jacket

I enrolled in Mary’s first offered workshop at the college – a class on writing metrical poetry.  I wasn’t familiar with Mary’s work, but I needed to fulfill an elective credit requirement and it sounded like an interesting option.  I was very nervous heading into the classroom for the first time.  I loved literature and writing.  I wrote poems throughout my adolescent years but I doubted those poems were any good.  I lacked confidence in my ability to write and questioned if I belonged in the creative writing classroom.

The classroom was small with only about eight students enrolled – mostly upper class women who were majoring in English and Creative Writing.  I was intimidated.  Mary came into the classroom like a dove, wings lowered softly, wispy grayish hair that had been tousled by the breeze that flowed through the dell in the center of campus, a gentle and quiet way about her.  She passed out a few handouts with famous metrical poems – sonnets by Shakespeare, Petrarch and Elizabeth Barrett Browning; quatrains samples by Coleridge, AE Houseman an Gwendolyn Brooks, a villanelle by Elizabeth Bishop; ballads by Keats and Poe; and more.  We discussed form and meter, and did exercises in pencil over the lines of these famous poems to show the five types of meter – iambic, trochaic, spondaic, anapestic, dactylic.

A budding writer studies metrical poetry of the great poets the way an art student copies works of the masters.  You learn from copying the greats.  And if you stick with it you just might become one of the select few who become masters creating a unique style for future generations to someday copy, too.

I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for Mary’s metrical poetry workshop.  After the first class I realized I was in trouble.  Mary’s expectation was that we would complete eight or so finished metrical poems that had to be true to form, meter, rhythm and she pushed us to not be lazy with our words, but to be selective, even obsessive about the words we put to meter – she believed we could all make these poems  beautiful.

At the end of the semester, I completed my eight or so poems.  For weeks I struggled in my dorm room with my homework of trying to write metrical poetry – far more than I struggled with my homework for my honors chemistry course!  It was far more challenging to stick to the formulas of writing metrical poems while being selective with my words and striving to create something beautiful.  I ended up putting more time into this one workshop for an elective than any other coursework that semester.

Over the following summer, when I was back home working part-time, I received a letter in the mail from the college.  It was a congratulatory letter informing me that my poem – a villanelle I had written in that metrical poetry class – had been awarded first prize in the annual college competition sponsored by the Academy of American Poets.  Huh?

Mary had submitted my poem, The Dogwood.  I was shocked to learn that my poem had been entered in the contest and dumbfounded that it had actually won!  I received a nice letter from the Academy along with a small prize stipend of $500 – I think.

When I returned for fall semester, I enrolled in another poetry workshop with Mary.  I wanted to take advantage of her short tenure as writer in residence at the college.  As it turned out, I ended up changing my major from Chemistry to English and Creative Writing.  Truth be told, something happened while I was working so hard on writing those eight or so poems for Mary’s metrical poetry workshop – the challenging work took over, the obsession with finding the right words defined my intellectual growth as a college student.  In the process I had found a voice I never knew was there – the voice of a writer.

I enjoyed all of Mary’s poetry workshops – all that were available before she disappeared and moved on from our campus to teach elsewhere – she went on to teach at Duke University.  I kept every version of the poems I submitted for class that came back to me with her signature hand written notes thoughtfully expressed in pencil.  Mary always used pencil.  You would see her walking meditatively around campus with her notebook and a pencil – that was how she wrote.  It was her process.

When it was time for me to graduate from Sweet Briar, I had no idea what I wanted to do.  I had been encouraged to apply for my MFA in Creative Writing.  So, I worked on a handful of applications and was delighted to learn that Mary wanted to be one of my references.  I was humbled by her kindness and generosity.

We had exchanged postcards and letters for a short time between my graduation and applying for graduate school.  I have those postcards and letters carefully tucked in my signed copies of Mary Oliver’s poetry books, stashed like precious relics on a special bookshelf.  Every now and again I open up her books and take out the letters and postcards and reminisce about the first time I attempted to write a metrical poem.

I had lost touch with Mary over the years.  I never went to grad school for that MFA – I wasn’t ready.  Life took me down a very different path.  I landed in Oregon, my dad’s home state, and worked in the wine industry.

On February 5, 2008, Mary came to town via programming scheduled by Portland Literary Arts .  I bought a ticket and sat so far up in the nosebleed section it seemed surreal from the days when I got to occupy space with Mary in a tiny classroom with just a handful of other students.

lit arts

I had written a letter to the director of Literary Arts explaining I was a former student of Mary’s and hoped I could arrange some kind of visit or moment to say hello.  At the time, I had taken poetry workshops with local poetry royalty – Kim Stafford, Paulann Petersen and Peter Sears – so, the magic of the universe worked out in my favor and the director invited me to attend the reception following Mary’s reading.

I only had about ten minutes to catch up with Mary.  It was lovely to see her again.  I was just happy that she still remembered me.  She asked if I was still writing – and at the time, I was.  I had earned a scholarship to attend Summer Fishtrap where I took a poetry workshop with Peter Sears; and I had enrolled in various other workshops – one at the Sitka Center for Art & Ecology at the Oregon coast with Kim Stafford and one at the Writer’s Dojo in Portland with Paulann Petersen.

Fast forward to the present.  I was at the hospital following the birth of my first child on January 15th when I learned Mary had passed away on January 17th.  I was so heavy in recovery and painkillers that I could not process the fullness and depth of this sad news. When I got home from the hospital I was in deep with the baby blues.  I pulled out a few of my Mary Oliver books, read a few favorite poems, and cried.

I harbor some regret for not seriously pursuing the MFA.  I loved the process of writing poems.  I don’t write poetry anymore.  My life has become consumed with running my own business, making wine, and now caring for a newborn.  For years I have been telling myself that when I retire from making wine I would wear my hair in a long, silver braid and dedicate my crone years to writing poetry.  And while that seems like a good life goal, there’s an undeniable void for having forsaken my literary dreams.  To be honest, a part of me just gave up.  It’s difficult to publish work and make a living as a poet.  I just didn’t see it as a reliable option.

My big question – I wonder what Mary would say to me about timing, process and revisiting a writer’s life in a later chapter.  My gut tells me she’d advise that I get back to writing – if only for myself – to rekindle the love, to stoke the fires of creativity, to pick up where I had left off, to be gentle and kind with the process, allowing it to manifest.

Mary wrote a poem called the Fletcher Oak while teaching at Sweet Briar.  This poem is iconic to the Sweet Briar community – mainly for those of us who attended college while the stately Fletcher oak tree was a fixture on campus.  Sadly, a few years after I graduated, the Fletcher oak had to be removed because it was diseased.  The tree lives on through Mary’s poem.

Fletcher Oak is poignant for me as I consider my studies at Sweet Briar, as I revisit my past as a poet, as I lament the passing of the writer.  The following lines hit home:

I don’t know if I will ever write another poem.  I don’t know
if I am going to live a long time yet, or even for awhile.

But I am going to spend my life wisely.  I’m going to be happy,
and frivolous, and useful.

And there I received my answer.

FletcherOak SBC.edu Photo of Fletcher Oak courtesy of sbc.edu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Exploration of Self Healing

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Image courtesy of doTERRA (doterra.com)

 

One of the worst conditions following childbirth was a case of a painfully numb thigh.  I endured a long (traumatic) labor beginning with early labor for two days at home with manageable contractions, followed by 24 hours of “active” labor at the hospital that led to 3 hours of pushing until my baby stopped descending and would not pass through the pelvic bone – you could see my baby’s head – which made me believe I would successfully push him for a normal vaginal delivery.  Unfortunately, after several grueling positions of pushing, baby was not budging.  The doctor and nursing staff prepared me for a C-section surgery.

Somewhere within the 24 hours of active labor and pushing I asked for an epidural.  And, of course, that line was used to anesthetize me from my tummy down for surgery. I was given morphine and other pain killers that ended up with alternating rounds of Ibuprofen and Tylenol.

I had been retaining a bit of water in my ankles and feet during my last trimester – normal edema.  In the hospital, with the introduction of intervention medicine to induce labor, my legs swelled up a bit more.  When I returned home after surgery, my legs were painfully swollen with fluids from pregnancy, hormones, and childbirth.  They felt tight and somewhat numb.  Over the course of a few days, the swelling went down, the water retention went away, and my left leg felt totally normal.  My right thigh, however, held on to the numbness for days.

The numbness became one of the worst experiences of my healing and recovery story.  It prevented me from getting much needed sleep to heal.  It felt like tinnitis or some other annoying tick that just wouldn’t go away.  I started researching online numbness in the thigh following childbirth – with different experiences associated with epidural, c-section, or childbirth, in general.  I then polled my Facebook friends to see if other mothers had experienced either temporary or permanent numbness from an epidural or C-section.  I had so many responses that it made me feel less paranoid about my own numbness.  Most said they had experienced temporary numbness in a leg and most said it lasted anywhere from several weeks to a couple years!

At this point, I wasn’t concerned with what caused the numbing aches.  I just wanted relief.  I had tried to be patient with my recovery – they say it takes a minimum of six weeks to recover from a C-section.  But, I was recovering from what was more like two birth experiences – my son making it through the birth canal and then a C-section.  I was a swollen, sore mess.

After a week, much of my swelling was subsiding.  I was beginning to feel a little bit better.  The numb leg was making me crazy.  Finally, I tried ice packs at night to see if it would help.  It did not.  I agonized over the thought of having this linger for months or even over a year.  I tried a heating pad.  It did nothing.  Finally, after two and a half weeks had passed since giving birth, I pulled open my bag of doTERRA essential oils.  I had one in particular that I though might be soothing – a proprietary blend called “Aromatouch”.

Now, there are clear warnings to consult your doctor before using essential oils with pregnancy or breastfeeding.  So, I am not advocating that every mother start slathering up the doTERRA oils for relief.  You need to know what you’re using, what risks are involved, if any, and what contraindications are involved, if any.

I used a small amount to massage into my numb thigh – a couple drops by my knee, a couple more near my hip.  I rubbed out my numb thigh for about ten to fifteen minutes.  I slept that night.

In the morning, my leg felt better.  The numbness was still there, but it was dull.  I don’t know if it was the massage, the oil blend, or the combination that eased the numbing pain.  All I know was that it felt better.  I walked around my house more to stretch out my thigh, get some circulation.  I had been drinking copious amounts of water to assist in breastfeeding, and was eating thoroughly nourishing and nutritious snacks and meals to make my former nutrition school instructors proud.  I was taking high quality, food based, organic prenatal vitamins, fish oil for omegas, vitamin D and a probiotic to supplement my diet.  I was making the best choices I possibly could for healing and nourishing myself and my baby.

The next evening, I added one more application of the doTERRA “Aromatouch” massage oil with a vigorous ten to fifteen minute thigh massage.  Again, I slept that night.

It’s been a couple of days and the numbness is barely there.  Certain sitting positions seem to aggravate the tissue, but then I’ll get up and walk it out.  It is still there, but it is very dull and at times unnoticeable.

The image above lists the ingredients in the doTERRA “Aromatouch” blend.  I wasn’t sure if any of these oils specifically addressed nerve injury.  So, I looked up nerve damage (neuropathy) and essential oils.  The following essential oils have been long associated with addressing nerve pain: Roman chamomile, peppermint and lavender.  Both peppermint and lavender are in the “Aromatouch” blend.

Peppermint essential oil is attributed to relaxing muscles, controlling muscle spasms and acting as a pain reliever.  Lavender is attributed to improving sleep and acting as a pain reliever, but, recent studies suggest lavender plant extract produces an anticonvulsant and anti-spasm effect.

I’m not one to sware by essential oils.  I believe they have their place in healing and wellness.  But, I also believe individuals need to work with their regular healthcare providers – doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists – to ensure safe use and dosage.

 

 

 

 

Winter Has Come

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I took a hiatus from this blog.  Once I got into the thick of Harvest 2018, while in the second trimester of my first pregnancy, I lost the ability to think outside of the demands of bringing in grapes, processing grapes, fermenting grapes, pressing grapes and putting nascent wine into barrel for winter hibernation.

Winter is my season.  I was born in the midst of an ice storm in Havre de Grace, Maryland in the month of January, after all.  I love snow and staying home to stay warm.  But, this year, as harvest wrapped up and the holidays came along, I felt a sense of melancholy.  This was the first time I had missed spending Christmas with my family – ever.  It’s bad enough that I don’t get to see my family enough.  Missing our family traditions made me feel alienated in our quiet, little farm abode in Newberg, Oregon.  I missed my family.  I missed the Christmas traditions that I looked forward to sharing with my family:  driving through the neighborhood to look at the Christmas lights; the Italian tradition of the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve; Midnight Mass; Danish smørrebrød on Christmas morning; watching my young niece and nephew enjoy the magic and wonder of Christmas morning; enjoying the cozy togetherness, the simple art of hygge (the Danish art of coziness); and going out for the annual holiday movie with my siblings (specifically the blockbuster sequel genres of Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars).

I had to miss going home for the holidays because I was 36 weeks pregnant and unable travel across country by airplane.  And while many friends in my social media circles tried to console me and remind me that I have my own home now and my own family – a doting husband and a baby on the way – I couldn’t shake my winter blues.

While there’s nothing like going home for Christmas, it turns out that my many friends in my social media circles were right.  Traditions can be edited, families grow, and life goes on.  My sweet husband worked hard to ensure my winter – and the holidays – were still warm and cozy.  They were different, but no less special.  We had Christmas Eve dinner with his father, aunt and cousins; we attended Midnight Mass at the beautiful Grotto in Portland; he made us a beautiful Danish smørrebrød on Christmas morning; we quietly opened up gifts that were all for our soon-to-arrive baby; and, on New Year’s Eve we had a magical dinner in and set off crackers that sent brightly colored streamers to adorn our Christmas tree while sipping on Champagne, and then we slow danced to Auld Lang Syne.  It was all perfect.

I got my wonderful winter.  My birthday came along and my husband made a perfect Coq au Vin which we paired with a special bottle of 2011 Clos Roche Blanche Cuvée Pif.  This wine is significant for several reasons.  For one, I made my first wine for my business in the same vintage – 2011.  Clos Roche Blanche was the inspiration for the first red wine I ever made – my Oregon “Tour Rain” Vin Rouge – which is 40% Gamay Noir and 60% Cabernet Franc.  The 2011 CRB was born to go with my husband’s Coq au Vin.  It was nice to finally sip on some wine without repulsion during this pregnancy.  It was like falling in love with wine all over again!

As these annual markers and milestones passed, we were closer to delivering our baby.  On the weekend of our 38th week gestation we decided to take a last minute “babymoon”.  I got the green light from my doctor and we packed up for a much needed respite up on Mt. Hood.  We arrived at our friend’s quaint cabin in the snowy village of Government Camp.  We enjoyed precious time together – just the two of us before becoming three – cooking lovely meals, my husband building the best woodstove fires, playing rounds of gin rummy, snuggling, taking easy walks in the snow, and then snowshoeing a moderate trail for two miles on our last day on the mountain.  I was proud of myself for snowshoeing at 38 weeks pregnant!  It felt wonderful – my joints opened up, the fresh air was like medicine, and the snowfall was a welcome peace.  Our babymoon was winter jubilation.

The following week, I began early labor at home.  Winter had come.

After two days of early labor at home, we checked into the hospital for a light induction.  More than 24 hours later, after active labor followed by 3 hours of pushing, and a baby not passing through the pelvic bone, we were carted into surgery for a C-section.  Our beautiful baby boy was born on January 15th.

For a winemaker, this is the perfect time to have a baby.  The barrels were getting topped, as needed.  And plans for bottling the white wines in March have already been made with minimal work to do beforehand.  My husband was able to take off four weeks from work so that we could create our little fourth trimester cocoon.  We have been cozy at home, our Christmas tree still up (and quite a hit for our newborn’s gazing delight), sleeping, napping, breastfeeding, and eating nourishing, comforting winter foods – rich yellow lentil soup, beef chili, lasagna, baked sweet potatoes, southwest hash browns with farm eggs – our refrigerator and freezer prepped before heading to the hospital.  And, many of our friends in the wine business helped us out with a meal train – bringing restaurant quality foods and groceries to our front door.

We aren’t leaving the house and we aren’t opening up the door for visitors.  We are using this time to nurture and protect our newborn, allowing me to heal from both pushing in active labor and a c-section, and using this time for family bonding.  We are also in the midst of a measles outbreak in the greater Portland / Southwest Washington area – which is causing a bit of panic for many of us with babies under a year old who cannot get vaccinated.  It’s crazy, but suddenly it feels more like 1819 than 2019 with mostly anti vaxxers’ children under the age of 10 getting sick, but, putting babies and immune compromised people in danger.

Sign of the times, I guess.  The world seems crazy!  It is why I take even more comfort in staying home with my husband and baby for a winter hibernation.  It is quiet, healthy and perfect.  I am activated to write more in the few precious moments when I can sit down while the baby is sleeping, sip on some hot tea, and give my patient, sweet cat some attention.  I have a lot on my mind right now – mostly about parenting and processing a traumatic birth and dealing with the physical discomforts that come with healing from childbirth.  So, the blog will reflect what’s going on in my mind.  Eventually, it will turn back to winemaking thoughts and nutrition and living on our sweet farmstead in Oregon wine country.  There’s plenty of time for those things.  We are very much in the moment now, and that reflects mid winter, some solitude and the earliest days of caring for a newborn – with all of its beauty and wonder.  Yes, I got my wonderful winter.

 

 

 

 

Rekindling My “Death of Stars” Essay

 

FROM THE STARS, TO THE SEAS, TO YOUR GLASS

Every winemaker has an a-ha moment.  Mine came about when I saw an unexpected pile of rocks in one of the vineyards I work with in the Rogue Valley.  Embedded in several rocks were ancient marine shellfish, fossils and shell imprints that date back to a subduction that happened off of the Pacific coast about 250 million years ago.  From this discovery, I began researching the dirt and geology of Southern Oregon, learning from historical state documents going back to when Oregon was still a territory with a mission toward statehood – documenting natural resources that would help determine Oregon’s value as an addition for state status – resources like lumber, fishing, mining and farming that would provide jobs for its citizens and create wealth for the state.  I learned about the limestone quarries that spread throughout Southern Oregon.  These discoveries excited me and validated my choice to make Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec from this soil-rich region.

I waxed poetics about these incredible soils in a newsletter a few years ago, highlighting the 2015 harvest season…

 

ONE of my hobbies is learning about Quantum Physics. I think I may launch a second label someday dedicated to the phenomena of energy, relativity, and the universe. Until then, I continue to marvel at the mysteries of the universe and how everything is connected. Astrophysicists credit the formation of all matter on earth to the death of stars. That’s right. We’re all made of stars. And, everything around us originated from stars.

Carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms are in our bodies, and in all matter on earth, along with atoms of all other heavy elements, which were all created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. All organic matter containing carbon was produced originally in stars, and the universe was originally just hydrogen and helium, so the carbon was made later, over the course of billions of years.

“The material from a supernova eventually disperses throughout interstellar space. The oldest stars almost exclusively consisted of hydrogen and helium, with oxygen and the rest of the heavy elements in the universe later coming from supernova explosions,” according to “Cosmic Collisions: The Hubble Atlas of Merging Galaxies,” (Springer, 2009).

And, here we are, star material beings, looking at star material liquid in a star material glass. Everything is connected.

When I walk through vineyards, my eyes are all over the place. Mostly, they’re gazing downward at the earth. I love exploring the vast landscape and geology of Oregon’s young wine regions. Though our vineyards are nascent compared to the Old World, what makes some of our soil series special – especially in Southern Oregon – predates some of the soil series formations in Europe. That said, I have recently made an exciting discovery. I hadn’t previously considered the soils where I source my grapes from as anything more than clay loam soils. Admittedly, I was somewhat disconnected. Easy to be when you live five hours away. But, this year I discovered one of the vineyards I work with has very similar ancient oceanic material to that of the Loire Valley. Not just in theory. I literally stepped into this discovery while doing my usual rounds in the vineyard. It’s no coincidence that I found my way down south to produce wines inspired by my favorite region in France.

So, how is this all connected? Let me back up about 100 million years ago, to what was known as the Upper Crustageous Period, when much of the Loire Valley was under ancient seas of the Paris basin during the time in pre-history known as Turonian. In the Middle Loire, near Anjou, chalk layers were deposited. This rock, called Tuffeau, is chalky limestone which is made up of Bryozoa – marine organisms which lived in masses of floating colonies. Exposure to air cemented these deposits by iron and magnesium oxides – valuable elements added to the soil. When mixed over time with sandy and flinty clays, over millions of years, the Tuffeau has created these nutrient rich soils perfect for vineyards.

When I walk through vineyards, my eyes are all over the place. Mostly, they’re gazing downward at the earth. I love exploring the vast landscape and geology of Oregon’s young wine regions. Though our vineyards are nascent compared to the Old World, what makes some of our soil series special – especially in Southern Oregon – predates some of the soil series formations in Europe. That said, I have recently made an exciting discovery. I hadn’t previously considered the soils where I source my grapes from as anything more than clay loam soils. Admittedly, I was somewhat disconnected. Easy to be when you live five hours away. But, this year I discovered one of the vineyards I work with has very similar ancient oceanic material to that of the Loire Valley. Not just in theory. I literally stepped into this discovery while doing my usual rounds in the vineyard. It’s no coincidence that I found my way down south to produce wines inspired by my favorite region in France.

So, how is this all connected? Let me back up about 100 million years ago, to what was known as the Upper Crustageous Period, when much of the Loire Valley was under ancient seas of the Paris basin during the time in pre-history known as Turonian. In the Middle Loire, near Anjou, chalk layers were deposited. This rock, called Tuffeau, is chalky limestone which is made up of Bryozoa – marine organisms which lived in masses of floating colonies. Exposure to air cemented these deposits by iron and magnesium oxides – valuable elements added to the soil. When mixed over time with sandy and flinty clays, over millions of years, the Tuffeau has created these nutrient rich soils perfect for vineyards.

Likewise, another oceanic soil series with ancient shellfish fossils is Falun – sedimentary rock formed from marine deposits laid down during the Caenozoic era, about 60 million years ago. Thousands of tiny shells, crushed or whole, are generally mixed with sand and clay to form ancient marine soil series. Falun is common in the regions of Touraine and Anjou, in the Loire Valley.

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Falun sedimentary rock with ancient marine fossil, Loire Valley
photo courtesy of C. Henton, http://www.letastingroom.com

Cabernet Franc grows well on the cretaceous chalks of Saumur, and throughout the Loire, as does Sauvignon Blanc, and the other many varietals that make up the varied vineyards in the region. There are more grape varietals planted in the Loire than any other region in France – Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay Noir, Grolleau, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, Chardonnay, Menu Pineau, Pineaud’Aunis, Pinot Gris, and Romorantin. The soils and climate are perfect for such variety.

Let’s skip a stone across the pond to Southern Oregon. A few weeks ago, I was navigating a handful of the vineyard sites where I source my grapes, and, after walking through a unilateral trellised block of Cabernet Franc vines new to my program, my tour guide and grower, Michael Moore, of Quail Run Vineyards, LLC, pointed out a large pile of rocks. I wondered what that pile was about – at first, it looked like a bit of an eye sore – debris from clearing out a field for new vines.

rock pileOcean bottom rock pile, Crater View Vineyard Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon

As we approached the pile, it took me just seconds to see the treasure he was excited to share with me. Right smack in front of the pile was a slab of rock with small white inflections feathered and embedded into the surface. It was an ancient marine fossil!

marine fossil in rock
First impression – ancient marine fossil in ocean bottom rock –
excavated in Crater View Vineyard, Rogue Valley.

I nearly fell over in excitement! I was like a giddy kid in a candy store! I climbed up the 10 foot high rock pile and explored every large and small rock – in hopes of finding a small enough sample with a shellfish imprint or fossil to take home with me – no luck. The few rocks found with beautiful prehistoric fossils were too big to move.

Michael showed me a few more rocks with crustaceous imprints. He looked at me very seriously, then, and explained these rocks were 250 million years old! That significantly predates the soil series we’re talking about in the Old World. We’re talking about rocks from the time of the dinosaurs!

He pulled out his phone and played a recording by one of the state’s geologists, Scott Burns, who is a professor at Portland State University. Burns was speaking specifically about the geology in nearby Talent, Oregon, but, as part of the same soil series and the same range of what’s in both the Rogue and Applegate Valleys.

These rocks were all originally from the bottom of the ocean! The blue rock in one of the photos I took (posted here) is blueschist. There are three types of original terrain in Southern Oregon that include volcanic rock, ocean bottoms, volcanic muds, and islands. Eventually, the terrain was uplifted and turned into limestone (as in the Oregon caves), and the rocks formed were mostly blueschist and phyllite.

blueschist
The gray blue rocks here are blueschist rock from the bottom of the ocean,
literally pushed into the modern landscape of the Rogue Valley from the off-shore Cascadian plates that moved 250 million years ago!

These metamorphic rocks are found in orogenic belts, which are associated with subduction zones which consume crust, produce volcanoes, and build island arcs. The formation of an orogen is part of the tectonic process of subduction, with two scenarios, where either a continent rides forcefully over an oceanic plate, or where there’s a convergence of two or more continents, creating a collision. In the case of the Pacific Northwest, and what we were looking at, we’re talking about the first scenario.

The processes of orogeny can take tens of millions of years and build mountains from plains or the ocean floor. Imagine the Cascadian fault line, or subduction zone. This is the area along the coast where two plates meet – the Juan de Fuca, and the North American. This has been in the news recently, due to predictions that the Pacific Northwest is due to expect an 8.0 – 9.0 earthquake from the movement of these two plates along the Cascasdian subduction zone sometime in the next fifty years.

The rocks we were looking at were pushed up as a result of a tectonic subduction that happened about 250 million years ago, forcing ocean rock up into what’s now the Rogue and Applegate Valleys. When this part of the Crater View Vineyard we were in had been recently cleared for new vine plantings, the pile had been examined, and the fossils and imprints had been discovered.

mollusk shell in rock   shell imprints
Ancient shellfish fossils (left) and imprints (right) in 250 million year old ocean
bottom rock from the Pacific Ocean. Excavated from Crater View Vineyard.

How is blueschist a connection?  Because limestone is one of the blueschist facies.  In the Loire, sedimenary rock soil series includes several rocks, including sandstone and blueschist.

Ancient marine rock, blueschist, limestone, sand and clay, shellfish fossils and imprints… there’s something connecting these two places. There’s a reason why there are so many wine grape varietals planted in Southern Oregon – much like the Loire Valley! There are real connections here – even if simply just an idea, or something as complex as the universe connecting people, places, and moments. And, isn’t that why we drink wine – to connect people, places, and moments? I looked at Michael and I think we both had stars in our eyes.

As I stood on that pile of ancient marine rocks, looking around at the beautiful vineyard where I get some of my Cabernet Franc, all of my Malbec, and now all of my Sauvignon Blanc – I felt connected to the universe in a new way. The stars made all of it. But, the earth pushed and pulled itself into these beautiful craters, volcanoes, ranges, valleys. The earth took its star material and created habitat and life. And, it did so in a majestic tapestry of both unique and similar forms. For the first time, I felt validated for my crazy decision to focus on Loire style wines. The whimsical name I borrowed from my friend and colleague, Herb Quady, means everything to me now. Loiregon. We’re not in the Loire, we’re in Oregon. But, the two places are connected. And, it’s not simply because I wanted there to be a connection to justify my intuition to craft Loire style wines here in Southern Oregon. It’s bigger. I now see why I was meant to make Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc from this place, and in a style that reflects the glinting mirrored ancient star material from the Loire.

The first pick of the vintage came in on Monday, August 24th. The Sauvignon Blanc from Crater View Vineyard has nearly completed fermentation – and is already showing much like a PouillyFumé – with its creamy texture and hints of gunflint or smoke, or wet straw, and then floral notes of elderflower and jasmin, and flavors of flint, lime zest, melon and grapefruit. The Cab Franc from Mae’s Vineyard is on queue for delivery this week for the limited edition Blanc de Cabernet Franc.

I’m happy to announce I’m now making my wines at Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg, a nice and easy close drive from my home in Southwest Portland. Delighted to be in this beautiful space among wonderful friends.

It’s been a very good start for my first milestone – here’s to the Fifth Vintage!

The Many Souls of our Homes

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I have always loved old buildings.  My first job out of college was with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and, for a fleeting moment in my young adulthood, I had considered going to graduate school to study architecture via a preservationist’s lens.  I ended up on a very different path, but, my love for the old and antiquated continues to delight me.

I believe my fascination with old buildings is rooted in the fact that I’m an old soul.  I love history and learning about the past.  And I love learning stories about a place, the stories that give physical buildings metaphysical souls.

I’ve also been drawn to the elderly.  My mother was the director of a senior citizen’s center when I was in high school.  I used to volunteer there during my summers, waking up at 5:00 a.m. with my mom to leave by 6:00 a.m.  We’d grab breakfast at the Bob’s Big Boy with her assistant, Faye.  Then, by 7:00 a.m. we’d arrive at Groveton Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, where I’d help open the center, greet the seniors as they arrived, and spend my days playing card games, helping out with programming, serving lunches – many of these people were low income and this was their one hot meal of the day – and listening to their stories.  We can learn so much from our elders.  Today, it seems people value the wisdom of our elders less and less.  Not me.

Fast forward a couple decades, and here I am in Newberg, Oregon.  I was drawn to Oregon in 2004 for work in the world class wine industry nestled in the Willamette Valley.  But, I also wanted to connect to my father’s family.  His parents both passed away before I was born, so, I missed out on their stories.  I thought, if I move to Oregon I can connect to my roots and create my own stories to help keep our family’s legacy and narrative alive.

I got married in June and found out rather quickly that we were expecting.  My husband and I have been house hunting for about a year.  We found our perfect place in August and on September 4th, we closed on a charming farmhouse outside of downtown Newberg, in the heart of Oregon wine country.

Moving has been a bit of a challenge for me because I’m pregnant and because we’ve started our grape harvest for our wine business.  Piece by piece, we emptied out my apartment – an old charmer that had been my home for over eight years.  I had been emotional about the move, in part due to my pregnancy hormones, but, also because it had been a special place to me for many years.

The new house has certainly soothed any sad feelings I’ve had for my old apartment.  We are situated on a nice spot with about an acre of property that’s a blank slate – so we can dream up our perfect sanctuary with gardens, a bocce court, a soaking pool, a chicken coup, and adding an outdoor kitchen with pizza oven on the already established patio.  So many possibilities!

Last weekend, my husband was outside on the patio surveying our property when a car pulled up on our gravel driveway.   I heard chatting, so, I pulled on my sweatshirt and met them outside.  Turns out, a small framed, sweet faced lady named Hazel used to live here.  Hazel explained her family had bought the house in 1925, when she was just five years old.  The house had been in her family until she had to sell it in 2005 to move into assisted living.  Hazel was 98 years old and looked remarkably well!

We invited Hazel and her stepson and his wife to walk through the property with us.  Hazel’s face lit up as she recounted stories growing up on the small farm.  It was like watching the aged Rose tell her story about her voyage on Titanic.

Hazel was remarkably able to walk upstairs to the second level.  She showed us a secret – a carving of “1910” scratched into the wall of an upstairs closet.  We wondered who was our mystery scribe.  The builder?  The first owner?

1910

It isn’t every day that you get to meet a previous owner of your home that knows the full history.  We considered ourselves very lucky to meet Hazel.  She told us where she played, where the outhouse was (and how she hated going out to the outhouse in her little pantaloons as a child), and how a room that looks like an attack was their “summer room” where her whole family would sleep when it was hot because of all of the windows kept the room relatively cool.

Meeting Hazel reminded me of the sweet seniors I would spend my summers with.  I plan to visit her at her nursing home and my husband and I would like to invite her to celebrate her 100th Birthday at our house.  While this is our first home, and we’re about to start our family here, it has been long lived in by a handful of souls.  It was Hazel’s home for 80 years.  We hope that this place never stops feeling like home to sweet Hazel.

 

The Rose Colored Glassed Lens of Social Media

occhiali rosa

I hear it time and time again.  People just use social media to show off their latest and greatest bragging rites.  You only see the perfect white picket fences, not the disasters, meltdowns, and chaos of real life.

There are studies indicating social media has an impact on depression because when people see their friends’ posting boastful dream vacations, homes, romances, jobs, etc., etc., it makes them feel inadequate about their own lives.

Do we constantly measure up our personal life experiences against everyone else we know on Facebook?  It would seem there are two versions to every social media post – the Instagram version and the reality bites version.  Are we only showing the microcosm of our world the glittering ideals of the perfect lives we wish to project?  Are we being authentically happy or undeniably shallow and smug?  Do we use social media for emotional support, therapy, and venting, or do we use it to get attention, to bully, or to compete with our peers?  Or, do we just troll?

I’m going to challenge the naysayer’s answer.  I believe most people just want to share the good stuff because, let’s face it, as the Buddhists solemnly preach – we all suffer.

My brilliant cousin, Chris, a PhD academic and school administrator in New York, once told me that he never asks people how they are doing.   He asks them – what’s good?

Why?  Because when tasked with answering the question of how you’re doing, people tend to avoid what’s good and go right into all that’s going wrong.  Most people don’t ask how others are doing because they’re aiming to lead the conversation towards doom and gloom.  Most people ask because it’s the polite thing to do.  And most people actually want to hear about the good news.  Truly.

By asking someone what’s good – you are engaging in positive energy and moments, you are helping your conversation buddy to not feel obligated to choke on humble pie and hold back from sharing what is good.  Instead, you are encouraging others to be happy for a moment and to focus on what is indeed good.  You are offering to bear witness to another human’s happiness.

It’s easy to be cynical and to scroll through social media and turn up your nose at other people’s successes, rewards, joys and breakthroughs.  But, it’s better to practice being happy for others.  Better for you!  Even if you think the person posting is an unbearable phony, remember they, like you and like everyone else, experience their fair share of suffering.

This does not mean you have to give a pass for people who practice shallow or self-congratulatory behavior all of the time.  This is an opportunity to simply put your personal feelings aside and be happy for someone else for a moment.

And, if you are experiencing a really rough time, if you are in the midst of a moment or period of suffering, try not to let other people’s moments of good affect you negatively.  If you find yourself getting bitter, jealous, sad, or depressed by other people’s good stuff, perhaps tune out and give yourself a social media break for awhile – take as long as you need.  It’s a good practice for everyone.

Personally, I’ve had a pretty good year.  And, most of my posts have shown big life changes and moments that are pretty damn good.  I got engaged in December, I got married in June, I found out I was pregnant with my first child and then my husband and I closed on our first house this month.  I am humbled by the kind words of support I’ve been receiving from friends, family and colleagues sharing in our joy and blessings.  Many keep saying – congrats, you’re having a big year!  Yes.  It’s true.  I’m not sure why it worked out this way.  It’s a lot to take in for one single year.  I am grateful, humbled, and surprised by all of the good stuff.  Yet with the joy comes crushing moments of anxiety, overwhelming uncertainty, and challenging stress.  It’s far from perfect.

When you think of some of the more stressful things to experience in life – like planning a wedding, having a baby, buying a house, moving, running a business – it can look rosy on the outside while the real experience of these blessings feels overwhelming.

I’m not ungrateful.  I’m just overwhelmed most of the time.  Deer in headlights overwhelmed.

All of these wonderful life events that mysteriously came to fruition within one year are baffling to me.  I’ve had my share of suffering.  From that suffering came years of believing I didn’t deserve happiness, that I must have done something wrong in this lifetime, or perhaps in another lifetime, that was preventing me from experiencing what’s good.

I don’t need to go through my list of personal hurts, disappointments, devastations, abuses, deaths, losses, illness, pain and suffering.  When you struggle long enough it’s easy to think God or the universe (or whatever you believe in) has forsaken you.   I quietly experienced 20+ adult years of challenges and suffering that had me believing I was going to go through this lifetime alone and constantly struggling.  I actually accepted that idea.  But, I was never sentenced to that fate.

When I post what’s good, I keep in mind that others are suffering.

When I post what’s good, it’s because I emerged from a long period of personal suffering and it feels good to share some joy with the world.  It’s not bragging.  It’s a hallelujah.

And, just because there’s a lot that’s good for me right now, that does not mean I’m not still working through some really difficult stuff.  Sometimes I’ll post about the difficult stuff.  Most of the time, I’ll post an interesting article I’ve read instead and hope it’s helpful for someone else, too.

I’ve softened my heart.  I don’t mind it so much if I see someone constantly posting content of nauseating envy.  I can be happy for them.  Because I know on the other side of that photo or post is someone who also suffers.  Sometimes the perfect posts indicate the canary in the coal mine for those suffering the most.  How can you judge that?

Facebook already targets and stirs up so much division.  Unfriending is a righteous act of ultimate rejection and defiance.  Judgement abounds.  We widen the gap so we can dismiss understanding and feel justified in doing so.  But, I think we need to shift our thinking and behavior towards more compassion.  It’s not a competition.  Life is love, after all.  When you can be happy for others it feels good.  You’re turning on the shade and opening yourself up to more light.  Beautiful, rosy light.

What do you think?

 

 

Latest Study on Alcohol Consumption: “The Safest Level of Drinking is None.”

Stop alcohol!

The headlines seem to say it all:

“Alcohol is a global killer, study finds…” 
“No level of alcohol consumption is healthy, scientists say…” 
“No alcohol is the only safe amount of alcohol for you, study says…” 
“Risks of drinking alcohol far outweigh any potential benefits, study authors conclude…”

The study at hand, “Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016” , was published by The Lancet on August 23rd.

In my many years of academic study, I learned to question your sources.  And, that begins by understanding who funds research.  

When it comes to alcohol studies, the verdict seems to change bi-annually.  For a long time, research concluded positive outcomes from drinking alcohol in moderation.  But, much of that research was funded by alcohol companies.

Wine, in particular, seemed the gold standard of alcohol products for maximum health benefits.  Headlines for over a decade encouraged:

“Wine is healthy…”
“Wine is good for your heart…”
“Ten health benefits of wine…”
“Red wine is full of antioxidants…”
“Raise a glass to your health…”

Red or White Wine is packed with amazing health benefits that includes reducing liver diseases, supporting healthy eyes, protecting the teeth, help in reducing vascular diseases, preventing cancer, regulating cholesterol level, supporting healthy bones, enhancing sleep cycle, preventing cold and flu, beneficial to the skin, controlling weight and improving mental health. (www.naturalfoodseries.com, August 18, 2018).

And, five days later, a study not funded by an alcohol company dropped the bomb.  No amount of alcohol is safe and the risks smash any benefits of consumption.  The headlining study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Naturally, I’m curious about the intentions behind the funding entity.  If you dig around online to learn about Bill Gates drinking philosophy, several sources will say Gates does not speak publicly about his views on drinking alcohol, but many close to him have gone on record to say he does not like to drink alcohol very often.

Gates lives in one of the top food and beverage centers in America.  Seattle, Washington is world class in food, wine, craft beer and spirits.

The study concludes:

“The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising, particularly as improved methods and analyses continue to show how much alcohol use contributes to global death and disability. Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none. This level is in conflict with most health guidelines, which espouse health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day. Alcohol use contributes to health loss from many causes and exacts its toll across the lifespan, particularly among men. Policies that focus on reducing population-level consumption will be most effective in
reducing the health loss from alcohol use.”

Are we in the wake of a new era of prohibition?  

Postscript:  An article by VOX has since been published and takes a stab at the Lancet study.  The write, Julia Belluz, takes a critical look at “nutritional epidemiology”.  As a nutritionist, I have to agree.  I studied holistic nutrition with the clinical, or western component, centered in functional medicine, along with equal study on Traditional Chinese Medicine.  My education taught me to question studies and to consider the sources, meaning who funded the research.  Nutrition is often a confusing arena to navigate with so much contradictory information tossed around.  There is no one formula that could possibly address every person’s healthcare needs.  We are all bio-individuals with unique biochemistry.  Making blanket statements in the name of science is just wrong – and the Lancet study did just that.

Read the VOX article.