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Spring 2013

Since there was a bevy of you who objected to my decision to quit writing the newsletter I have capitulated for another year.  Well, perhaps the word “bevy” is a little charitable.  The more precise number is two: A sweet delusional lady from Palo Cedro and a sister-in-law who squirrels away my letters as evidence of an alleged mental aberration.  The poor dear believes that one day she will be called upon to testify in her sister’s behalf at my insanity hearing. That’s utter nonsense, of course. I never become deranged unless some little kid who is sauntering by greets me with, “Yo dude!” Dude? Has mister become as antiquated as the hourglass and the horse drawn carriage?  What in God’s earth has Doctor Spock wrought?

My own upbringing can best be described as an exercise in attrition. Even after I became an adult. Take, for example, when I was at Oregon State and journeyed by Greyhound bus to Redding during Christmas break to hunt ducks with my uncle Charlie. Charlie had a cabin on a gold claim a few miles west of Whiskeytown, then called Schilling because the former name offended the good ladies of the community.  All four of them. In any event the trip was long and tedious and when the bus pulled into the Redding depot I anxiously stepped down and entered the waiting room filled with a motley crowd of active youngsters, bored travelers, sleeping dead beats and shifty-eyed miscreants. No Charlie. Well, it was only 5:30 p.m. and Charlie was never one to waste daylight. After about an hour and a half, however, it occurred to me that the letter pertaining to my arrival may have been lost in cavernous bowels of the post office.  Or, more likely, Charlie had just failed to pick up his mail. Meanwhile, outside on the sidewalk, the sky to the west was beginning to look ominous. A storm was apparently moving in. The question became should I continue to wait or start hoofing it.  After a few perplexing moments I chose the latter. After all, it was only fifteen miles and there was no guarantee that Charlie was coming. The decision made, I tossed the duffel bag on my shoulder and commenced the hike to Modesty Gulch.

By the time I reached Old Shasta I was feeling pretty good except for the burden of the damned duffel. It was filled with clothes, boots, toiletry, a twelve-gauge shotgun, three boxes of shells and a handful of candy bars. I considered ditching the bag in some brush and returning in the old Dodge Powerwagon the next day, but quickly discarded the notion. An uncle who considered a twenty mile trudge on snowshoes a stroll in the park would not look kindly upon a nephew who was a derelict and a slacker. Halfway up the divide between Clear Creek and Rock Creek it began to snow and continued all the way to my turn off at Grizzly Gulch. By then the snow was four inches deep. Further on, above Modesty Gulch, I could see a light from the cabin glistening in the snow.  It was just after midnight and Charlie was apparently still awake. When I arrived at the cabin I hurriedly brushed away the snow, stamped my feet and entered. My uncle was sitting next to the wood stove, reading a book from the light of a Coleman lantern. He slowly lifted his eyes from the book, examined me briefly and said “You’re late”.

So much for the letter lost in transit theory!

Self-reliance wasn’t the only thing my uncle taught me. Among other things he taught me was that there are twelve hours in a work day, you don’t go to town for enjoyment, you keep up a steady pace, you swing through a target, you don’t feed bears cayenne pepper, Drew Pearson is a scoundrel and you keep away from the mercury fumes of a retort. But the one thing I was never able to quite grasp was to stroll leisurely out of a tunnel while the fuses of five sticks of dynamite sputter behind you.

See, what did I tell you?  I should’ve quit last year. Better yet I shouldn’t have started this winery newsletter stuff twenty-eight years ago.  From the very beginning it was evident that what I knew about wine would fit neatly into a midgets vest pocket.  The crux of the matter is that winemaking requires hard work, long hours, a keen palate, and a thorough knowledge of chemistry and the luck of the Irish. Three guesses as to what I bring to the table.

Mark Groves