Thanks to our Community Farmer Katherine Favor for giving us a glimpse into the vineyard through this post! Read on for a reflection on Hanukah, waiting, and miracles.
It’s hard to feel the change of the seasons here in Encinitas, where the sun is always shining and the temperature rarely dips below 65. But when you walk into a vineyard, you can always tell what time of year it is. Spring is marked by glimpses of tiny shoots bursting their way out of dormant wood. Summer brings a jungle of long vines and bright green leaves. The beginning of fall means thousands of bright, juicy grapes hang on the vines, waiting to be picked. And now, as we move even deeper into fall and anticipate the coming winter, our vineyard continues to change more and more.
Leaves have turned yellow and gold, and many are starting to fall. Shoots that were once green have turned woody and hard. And when you walk through the vineyard you can feel the crunch of leaves under your feet. The vines are taking a much deserved rest after working hard all year to produce a bounty of grapes—2,400 pounds to be exact! They’ll rest like this for a few more months, taking in as many nutrients as they can from the soil, drinking in all the water they can get, and growing their root system. From our viewpoint above ground, the vines may appear totally dead. But underground roots are flourishing, stretching deeper and deeper into the earth, pulling up nutrients and storing them for the coming year.
But there’s no season of rest for the viticulturist. We’re already gearing up for next year’s harvest: revamping the irrigation system, marking vines that need to be replaced, amending the soil with gypsum and compost, and weeding. We’ll fold up the bird netting and put it away until July. In mid-January, when the grapes are fully dormant, we’ll prune the vines back to remove this year’s growth and leave short spurs from which will sprout new shoots. When left to their own devices, vines grow wild and jungly. But pruning allows us to maintain a manageable shape and maximize the yield of grapes that we’ll get next year.
In the vineyard, action and hope blend together. The viticulturist takes steps to grow grapes, but at a certain point she has to stop, wait, and hope for the best: for a harvest of sweet, juicy grapes. The themes of action and hope also meet during Hanukah. After returning to the destroyed Temple, the Maccabees found a single jar of purified oil. Even though the oil was only enough to keep a flame burning for one day, they still took action. They lit the oil and grabbed hold of hope.
That’s when the miracle arrived. On the second day, the oil continued to burn. On the third day the flame remained bright and steady. The oil burned for eight days in all as the Jews in the Temple waited, watched, and celebrated the miracle. During Hanukah we celebrate victory despite the odds: the Maccabeans overthrowing Greek armies, and oil keeping a flame lit for eight days. Like the Maccabees, the viticulturist takes the first step by tending the vines before sitting back to wait in hope. During winter in the vineyard, it seems improbable that new vines will ever sprout—but they do. Each shoot seems like a miracle when it finally arrives in the spring: victory despite the odds of winter, dormant vines, and months without activity.
With grapes, twelve months of preparation, sweat, labor, and love goes into producing just one harvest per year. Everything that we do now and throughout this coming year will have huge effects on next fall’s harvest. But we won’t get to taste the fruits of our labor for a long, long time. That’s one of the things that I love most about grapevines: there is no instant gratification. If you’re going to grow them right, they demand that you slow down, get into the rhythm of the seasons, and be patient. Eventually, the waiting pays off, and tiny green shoots form on the vines.
Hanukah is a time to notice and reflect on the daily, “mundane” miracles that take place in our lives—from new growth in the vineyard to reconciliation with a friend. If we don’t tend the vines or light the first candle, we might not ever see these miracles. Taking action and waiting in hope trains our eyes to the wonder all around us. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”
Happy Hanukah! We hope you can hold action and hope together this holiday, and take time to notice the miracles in your own life.