Lifestyle

FAITHFUL LIVING: 'Grape' encounter refreshes

This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears,

All nature sings and round me rings,

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world,

He shines in all that’s fair,

In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

-- This Is My Father’s World

Traditional hymn, 1901

Have you ever said to yourself, “One of these days I’m gonna get around to doing that!”?

In 1997, when I began to walk on a regular basis with my friend Jane, I privately made a pact with myself that I would one day do something with the Oregon grapes that cluster on bushes dotting our summertime walking route. Each July they entice me, prompting me in a strange way to do something wonderful with them.

This week I challenged myself to follow through and I devised a plan: I would harvest those hard, bitter little grapes and turn them into a delicious jelly to be enjoyed during the winter.

I began the process by filling my bike tires and outfitting a backpack with a couple of Zip Lock bags and a pair of scissors. As I hopped onto my bike I think I heard one of my kids remark, “What is Mom doing now?” but I’m not positive. I was not to be deterred even if I looked even remotely silly.

While it took me only a couple of minutes to reach the bushes, I quickly realized I was up against the hot sun bearing down upon my back and no roadway edge where I could park my bike and safely gather the grapes. I stashed my bike in some bushes lining a nearby turn-off and hopped down into the ditch. I understood this presented a slight danger, but I vowed to make my presence known each time a driver passed me by. I was not about to be the one smashed — that was an eventuality for the grapes I planned to pick.

What I could not have planned on were the up close and personal encounters I would experience with the roadway residents. Ever wonder, for example, where those little voles live? Along Oregon Grape Alley they make their homes in the ditch and I quickly learned that if I wished to reach those grapes, I would need to press my toes along the back edge of the ditch, directly at the entrance to many a vole home. Fortunately they are quick and light on their feet. They did not mind running over my tennis shoes if I did not mind the encounters.

Before I began the adventure I did some Internet investigative work. I checked with college extension Web sites that featured cooking with plant natives to be certain that harvesting and processing the grapes would not poison my family and friends. In so doing I learned that the grapes cluster on both short and tall varieties of bushes. Both resemble holly bushes and pickers can count on spikes that easily penetrate fingers and hook on clothing. And sure enough, I ouched my way from bush to bush but also found nearby plants equally prickly. There were thistles, rose bushes and blackberry vines to contend with — in addition to flies and tickly perspiration droplets that continuously worked down my back.

How fun is this? I questioned myself.

For a few moments I thought I had overrated my plan to can Oregon grape jelly. I even wrestled with the idea that I might quit and bike home, for the activity seemed to fall far short of my romanticized notion. But then God grabbed my attention with a family of quail that frantically attempted to cross the roadway in mass. The top-knotted males ran one direction while some of the females and youngsters criss-crossed the hot roadway, leaving stragglers to fly into nearby bushes as if in a panic.

From the bushes my eyes moved up into the sky to watch red-tailed hawks draw large flight circles and taunt crows concerned by the invasion to their territory. Feeling the need to defend their zones, they squawked and dive-bombed the graceful raptors.

Marsh hawks hovered over fields adjacent to small ponds and eagles hopped in nearby fields, recently hayed, to pick up dissected mice that came into contact with farm equipment.

Before I knew it the rustling grasses peacefully reminded me that there was a breeze, after all, to cool me down. There was also a blessed peace that came when I quieted my spirit and dared to step away from towels needing folding, Iraqi late-breaking reports on CNN, and teens arguing over borrowed clothing.

God speaks to me, everywhere.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is

jbklope@hotmail.com

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