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Terez Mertes

Big Red Grapes Rolling

September 30, 2008 at 7:48 PM

Last weekend I rode my bike in Big Basin State Park, an 18,000 acre enclave of old growth redwoods tucked into the Santa Cruz Mountains. As one might expect from mountainous terrain, I encountered hills. Steep hills, long hills, hills that never stopped climbing. The sun beat down, bathing me in sweat. The scenery was gorgeous but my quads ached, my butt hurt and I was out of breath.

I stopped finally after thirty minutes and irritably looked around. Gold sandstone hills, scrubby pines and chapparal had replaced the redwoods. The sky was a pitiless blue, no rain in months, potentially no rain for months. Not a gentle terrain, this. Once off the bike, I reached into my pack for water. To my dismay, my snack, a baggie full of grapes, came out too. I grabbed at the bag as it was falling, half-catching it, and watched a quarter of the contents tumble out. Red grapes everywhere. Firm, luscious, plump ones in the prime of their grape lives. I exclaimed in displeasure but it was already too late. They were dusty, they were history. Deciding there was no point in trying to retrieve the rolling grapes, I watched them instead.

The grapes had come alive. They were like kids released from school, pouring out the doors the moment the bell rang. Being on a steep hill, there was only one direction for them to go. Grapes, being grape-shaped, sort of wobble as they roll. Those on a right-side axis strayed off to the right. Others, on the opposite axis, wobbled uncertainly to the left before stopping. But a few grapes were perfectly situated to roll smoothly, in a straight line, down that hill. They would only stop, it appeared, when the hill stopped.

The end of the hill was a long way down.

They rolled and rolled. They raced. Soon, only three contenders remained. One rolling grape slowed, took a pothole and bounced to the side. The other two were still going strong. It was mesmerizing to watch. They became like tiny animals, slowing down occasionally to sniff at a pebble, a dead leaf, before continuing along their merry way.

Thirty seconds passed. Sixty. They became smaller and smaller, these two grapes, impossible to discern, at this distance, from live creatures. They looked like dung beetles, or tiny black field mice. One finally gave its last roll and settled into a crack in the gravel. The other moved on, on. My fatigue, my irritation, was forgotten. I was reveling in the freedom of this little renegade grape, until it, too, lurched to the right and took its final resting place by the side of the road.

I’m back at work today, still thinking about those grapes. I’m sure if I dig long enough I will find some parallel to the human condition, some correlation with the way I doggedly practice my violin each day—most decidedly the uphill ride—working my way through each scale, étude and assigned piece, often with more determination than pleasure. Maybe it’s the fiddle tune, then, that I’ll sometimes play instead, well aware that my fifty minute practice time affords little opportunity to play around with surplus tunes that merely bring pleasure, not increased technique or skill. Or maybe those little grapes represent all of us, spilled out onto the grand road of life, all with a destination of the bottom of the hill, and all, without exception, taking his/her own path and stopping at different places, unanticipated places.

I dunno. I just know that I got a kick out of watching those grapes roll down the hill. It eased something tight inside me, something I won’t—or can’t—ease up on my own. It made me remember how much bigger life can be outside the realm of the mind.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 7:55 PM
Very well written! I think what your experience shows is that we get out of ourselves and our rut when we concentrate on the unexpected and go with it. You did that wonderfully in your blog. The question is how you translate it into your violin playing. Maybe that's why I envy jazz musicians. That's what their music is about.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 8:52 PM
Well put, Tom. Especially this:
>The question is how you translate it into your violin playing.

I'll let you know what transpires...

Sounds like a Zen koan: What is the sound of one red grape rolling?

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 10:26 PM
grape writing!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 10:32 PM
Oh, I'll use any old raisin to post a blog, won't I? : )
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 10:55 PM
as long as people don`t start to wine about it.
From Debra Wade
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 11:06 PM
Fantastic writing Terez!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 11:28 PM
Aww, thanks, Debra : )

Buri, you beat me to the punch. (I was envisioning something like "stepping on the grapes and making them wine," but could find no lead-in.)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on September 30, 2008 at 11:30 PM
on a more serious note i think it is about `perception` versus `Vision.` If we are doing anything and it is not a joyful adventure then we are operating at the level of the former which is contorlled and dictated to by the past. If we allow something to free us from this then `vision` takes over and we become one with everything around us. We don`t play our insturments anymore. The music plays us.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 1:57 AM
Terez, you could try augmenting your practice sessions by 10 minutes, during which you give yourself license to play whatever you want. Or, roll grapes downhill...
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 3:30 AM
Buri, you are very wise and I'm right with you on what you're saying. That damned conditioned mind of mine.

Anne, can I borrow ten minutes from you? Because I've used up my own day. Every day. : /

But, FWIW, I must say, I had a rollicking good practice session this afternoon. It was a lot of fun and left me feeling great. Maybe it's all about visualizing those rolling grapes before I begin...

From Megan Chapelas
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 11:29 AM
Who says it needs to 'mean' anything? Sometime the simple experience is enough. As musicians, we often get so worried about 'intention' or 'meaning' that we forget to revel in the simple sound of a chord, the crispness of an attack, the path of a grape.

Can you play like them rolling down the hill? My teacher in San Francisco could - in my first lesson (at a festival on a farm out in the Olympic mountains), he showed me airplane engines, grass blowing in the wind, donkeys' tails flicking back and forth, all in sound on the violin. I was hooked.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 12:43 PM
Terez - if you get up at 3:50 a.m. (oh dark hundred to the rest of us), you get the extra ten minutes.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 12:54 PM
Megan, I love what you wrote. And Tom - hey! You're on to something! Who wants to waste all that time sleeping anyway? So dull... (To the others: I've told Tom that I get up at 4am in order to find time to work on novel-writing. Time that is squeezed later in the day by violin practice. But ah, all time well spent.)
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 12:58 PM
>donkeys' tails flicking back and forth...

Megan, I'm having fun trying to visualize (auralize?) this one. : )

From Laurie Niles
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 5:47 PM
I think it means, even the best plans sometimes catch a hitch. Let it go, with a chuckle, if you can!
From Craig Coleman
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 8:34 PM
It's interesting to read how nature can teach us a lesson, in your case those grapes. Nature is really our first teacher.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 10:18 PM
Thanks for your comments, Laurie and Craig! Very much enjoying reading everyone's thoughts.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 2, 2008 at 8:47 AM
You get up at 4 a.m. voluntarily? I got up at 4 a.m. this morning because I couldn't sleep, worrying about things like the economy and the bailout :(

But, there's nothing like a few grapes rolling to put things in perspective :)

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on October 2, 2008 at 8:49 AM
This blog also reminds me of a piece I played in college: "Pig Rolling: Overture to a Schizophrenic Table, no legs, no top." By Doug Henderson. I forget the instrumentation now, it may have been a piano trio (violin, cello, and piano).

"Grapes Rolling" is not so far off!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 2, 2008 at 4:25 PM
>"Pig Rolling: Overture to a Schizophrenic Table, no legs, no top."

Oh, this is hilarious! : )

And yes, I get up at 4am voluntarily. In my pre-kid, pre-novel writing days, I would have stated flatly that there was No. Chance. At. All. that I would do that. Funny how parenthood (and the muse) change you.

From Kyle Benson
Posted on October 2, 2008 at 10:49 PM
thats deep....highly inspirational thanks for that
From Cris Zulueta
Posted on October 2, 2008 at 10:58 PM
What if Isaac Newton saw rolling grapes before falling apples? I think it's just another expression of freedom. People of all ages look to the sky in wonder when ever doves or baloons are released. why not the rolling of the grapes?
From Terez Mertes
Posted on October 2, 2008 at 11:33 PM
Kyle – who’d have thought a bunch of rolling grapes could have produced an entire blog and so many interesting replies? I love it when depth comes from simplicity.

Cris – If Isaac Newton had seen rolling grapes first, he would have plopped his English butt on the ground and watched in amusement as they raced and wobbled down the hill. And we would have no Theory of Gravity. (I guess it would have been the Theory of Levity!)

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