07 January 2010

Mixed emotions

All winter long, come rain or snow or bitter cold, they're out there. There are two of them, a young woman and a young man. How young, I don't know — maybe 30? 35?

They arrive at 8:00 a.m., they knock off at noon, and they come back at 2:00 for the afternoon shift and, in winter, stay until dark. The woman has been out there every winter for years now. The man replaced another who left last year.

They are the vine pruners. They work for the Domain de la Renaudie. Their wintertime work is pruning the vines — cutting back last year's tangle to make everything ready for the new growth of springtime. I don't know whether to admire them or feel sorry for them for having to work outdoors, every day, in such miserable conditions.

Pruning the vines in January

They are dressed in bulky hooded coats, hats, and gloves. They carry little battery-powered clippers that make the work go faster. They chat and banter as they go up and down the rows — sometimes I hear them before I see them — cleaning up nature's mess. And they always wave and shout out « Bonjour ! » when they see me.

They know Callie, but she is afraid of them. Dogs are funny. Callie loves old Monsieur Denis, the retired owner of the Domaine de la Renaudie operation. When he's out there, she runs to greet him, jumping up and kissing him on the face. He loves it. « Elle vient toujours me trouver ! », he told me one day, obviously pleased — "She always comes and finds me!" He's not out there in really cold weather, though.

The apple trees are almost prettier in winter
than they are in spring and summer.

Callie also goes down the rows as far as necessary to greet Bruno Ledys, another grape-grower who has vines out there and who does his own work. Bruno always comes to work in the vineyard with at least one dog, Max, and sometimes with a second dog too. Callie and Max are old friends now — as are Callie and Bruno Ledys. He shows her affection by rubbing her head.

The afternoon walk starts around sundown this time of year.

But Callie acts like she's afraid of the Renaudie employees who spend most of the winter out there working. Maybe it's those hooded coats, or the clippers they always have in their hands. Callie is curious about them, and when they try to make nice she does her doggy thing of running around them in circles, barking and wagging her tail.

When I told the woman I didn't understand why she behaved that way, she said: « Elle veut jouer, c'est tout. » — "She just wants to play." Maybe it's that simple.


  1. Hi Ken, I certainly feel for your poor pruners; we're in Guernsey, Channel Isles and as rose-growers had to prune thousands of feet of roses every Dec/Jan. But we worked under glass, only stepping out periodically with the armfuls of pruned branches, so were much better protected than your poor neighbouring pruners!

  2. I admire the pruners, their life isn't easy. I am an outdoor kind of person, but I don't think I'd like all that bending and cutting, even with electric clippers.

    We think the snow will miss us now, but there is game day excitement in the air here. Many Crimson Tide fans are in Pasadena now. I think a few have visited CHM's territory- Joshua Tree country, a beautiful part of California.

  3. Very interesting post. I had no idea that someone would have to go out and do alllll of that pruning by hand every year, and I had wondered, looking at your photos, how everything ended up clean and ready for new plants each year. I am, apparently, not much of an agri-stuff person! :))


  4. Completely off topic. Evelyn, I don't know if you're still looking for a good yeast. The best, I should say. I just got some that I ordered from King Arthur Flour Company [http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/].

    Shipping & handling is pretty high compared to the price of one package of yeast, but since it's cheaper than Fleishman and you use less, it is worth ordering it. It comes vacuum sealed and can keep at room temperature until opened.

    Thought you might be interested. It's manufactured in Mexico, but is as good as the real thing.

  5. thanks for yeast info, CHM! I'll order some.

  6. Is it the SAF gold yeast, Chm?

  7. Evelyn. Yes it is the SAF-instant. It comes in 1 lb packages. That pound, at $5.95, is much cheaper than the Fleishmann's 4 oz jar! LOL and MDR

  8. It's good to remind ourselves that however much we grumble about work, for some people earning a living is very hard.
    Although I bet they don't often suffer from work-related stress.

  9. these posts about the winter husbandry always touch me. thanks again, and happy new year.


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