Concord Grapes

 

It hit me as we were driving east on the Kingston-Rhinecliff bridge. It’s a stunning view of the Catskill mountains from the apex of the bridge, which is distracting because the bridge is not only narrow, but high up above the Hudson River. You may have a hard time keeping an eye on the road instead of the mountains which command your eyes as they solidly sit northwest in the view. The mountains turn that indigo color in the distance. It makes me think of purple mountains majesty–truly the definition of the phrase. I used to take this drive every day for years, and it never got old. It would often remind me of how beautiful the area I lived in was. How grateful I was for it.

There was more to it than the view, though. My son and I had spent the day visiting a library in Hudson, and on the way home we stopped at a farm stand that had a sign out that said “grape picking.” There are numerous signs for apple picking in these parts, but not too many for grape picking, and I had made a note of it on our way up. The weather was tempestuous that day, monstrous gray clouds, showers coming and going, varying in intensity. I had to change the timing of the windshield wipers constantly. However, it seemed to stop as we rolled into the grass lot of a barn that two men stood outside of, waiting for prospective pickers. We got a box and a pair of snippers, and the owner pointed out the field down the road by a tall willow tree. He told me to pile my box up high as this was the last weekend for picking. What kind of grapes, I asked. Concords, he said, with a slightly incredulous tone that said do you have to ask?

We drove in and parked on the slight hill next to the neat rows of grapes. The vines were held up with wires attached to large old stumps in the ground that were obviously there for a long, long time. My son and I ran to the top of the hill they were situated on–he for the excavator perched there, and me for the view of the Catskills. Dutchess county has incredible views of the Catskills, and this was no exception, even shrouded in clouds and mist. The wind was coldish, and wet, and I got to work looking for grapes as he dawdled and ate his fill of grapes. I walked down the long rows, only hitting the bounty as I got to the end. Many were dried out, but still they were there: fat and purple, dusted with a white bloom–similar to the color of the mountains–the scent rising out of the leaves. I ate a couple, the flesh so sweet and the skin with a bit of tannic bite. Concord grapes have so much texture–the tight yet globby flesh, the slip skin that jumps off, the large seeds that don’t want to leave the center until your tongue pries them and spits them out.

I filled up a 1/2 bushel box, which is about 20 pounds. I wanted a full bushel, but knew better of the work that would require. We didn’t stay long, and the man at the stand was surprised when I returned. You filled your box already? he asked. We chatted in the shed while I gave him a twenty, and he returned four dollars back to me. He told me his family’s story; how his grandparents moved up here from Yonkers. How his grandmother was sent to live here, and she cried for ten years living in this country so far from everything she knew. We laughed, but I can imagine how terrible it must have been in those days for a twenty year old woman to be transplanted to the harsh countryside. Farm wives did not have it easy. “She used to glean the grape vines at the end of the season, and can all them,” he said, “jams, jellies, you name it.”

Now there was a box of grapes in the backseat as we drove off, and it began to fill the car with its sweet and fruity scent as we drove home, dodging fat drops of rain. I stopped at another stand and picked up both celery root with its greens, and celery, thin and spindly with lots of greens–both of which  when bought fresh and local are loaded with flavor, and added a green grassy scent to the smell in the car. A cider donut for my son, and an apple muffin for me that I brought, we started to drive over the bridge and there it was, the stunning view. You reach the peak of the bridge, and because it’s a continuous under-deck truss bridge, there is nothing above it, so your field of vision is unblemished by beams. You are 152 feet above the river, and the vista is pristine.

Suddenly I had that feeling, a moment in time being sealed by several factors: the magnificent view of the purple mountains in the distance, the slight gradations of foliar change in the trees that lined the river’s edge, the smell of the sweet grapes mixed with the grassy note of the celery (which sent its smell all the way from the back of the car), the intimacy of the two of us in the front enjoying a snack after a nice outing. It was all so perfect, and as these moments seem to happen, it was like a puzzle with all the pieces locking in, and it stamped in my brain with a resonance of the perfect moment of fall. The way you want your moments to be, the kind of time stamp your mind craves, those times you want to secure in amber because they hit every note.

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