Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Is She Talking About With This Whole "Terroir" Thing?


Grapes, Lenz Winery, Peconic, NY, September 2014


So this is the first entry in what I hope will be a year-long adventure. It could, however, end up being a few months adventure. One never knows about such things. I'm trying to embrace uncertainty, to see it as full of good possibilities.

And I'd like to say that, while this first post for the blog falls on the philosophical side of things, rest assured that soon the blog will degenerate into the smart-assery and absurdity my friends have come to expect from me, and (hopefully) an enjoyable opportunity for you to rubber-neck on calamities to come.  Still, I hope amid all that to be able to illuminate and create useful discussion even as I make an arse out of myself.

The idea for this blog arose in tandem with the idea for a trip. A long trip, traveling with the organization WWOOF, which stands for a number of things, predominantly World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I've also heard it called Willing Workers On Organic Farms.  I like that one, because it pretty much does the explaining for me.

I've been living in a suburban environment for a while now, close to that heaving metropolis, New York City. I won't bore you with a lot of angst. I'll simply say that my being here is a bit like trying to grow ferns in the desert, or cacti in the rainforest.  It just doesn't fit.

I open my windows on a bright sunny day, while I hammer away at these keys with my latest writing project, and hope to let in the breeze, the warmth, and if I'm lucky, a little birdsong. Sometimes I get my wish.

But just as often, I get an earful of traffic, or errant car alarms, or worse—an earful of lawn and yard maintenance machinery; the sound of humans trying to beat the land into submission, spewing noise and the fumes of combustible fuels into the air.

Once gazing upon a neatly trimmed lawn, it's easy to believe for a moment that the landscapers have won.

But Mother Nature will always have her way.
And she's way more patient than those guys with the machines.

How did we get here? And why? And how do we get back to something else?

I'm hoping to learn some new skills, meet some new people, hear some new ideas and have a few laughs in the process.  I invite you, dear reader, to come along, to ask questions, make [thoughtful, non troll-like] comments, and perhaps show us that you, too, have an absurd smart-ass within you.

But mostly, I want to get back to the land. I want to rekindle the fire between me and the natural world—we were really close once. We had something special, something real and essential. I'm hoping she'll take me back.  I'll do anything to get her back, in fact—I'll dig in the dirt, grow flowers with her, milk sheep, shovel manure, destroy my back.

The truth is, I can't live without her.

The truth is, I owe everything I am (the good parts, at least) to her. I'm a better human being when I'm with her. She's a part of me, and I'm a part of her.

That's Terroir.

In a less cheesily romantic, and more practical way, I'll let our mutual friend Wikipedia explain it to you, too:

Terroir (French pronunciation: ​[tɛʁwaʁ] from terre, "land") is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine, coffee, chocolate . . . Terroir can be very loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. 

I think they've left out something important in that definition, though. There are also the other living things in the environment that work upon each other—those glorious bees, and birds, other plants and animals, and other insects. Think you can live in a world without bees? Think again.

 So that's the Terroir of grapes and other agricultural products. But what about us? How are the land, the climate, the soil and the things that grow in it and on it, shaping us? How might our alienation from it also be affecting us in powerful ways? How is our proximity to each other shaping us?

[And don't ask a New Jersey driver or NYC commuter to answer that, unless you want to get really depressed.  I see plenty of "birds" on the highways here, and have flipped a few, myself.]

I can't promise the answers will come on this trip. In fact, I'm pretty sure these kinds of questions would take a lot longer than a year in Europe to sort through. But I hope we can talk about it, you and me—us—and think a little more deeply about the way we're moving through the world, and the ways the world moves through us.

I appreciate your being here.