I apologize in advance, but I believe I’m going to be a bit self-focused over the course of this particular post. Why? Because today is the day I celebrate the anniversary of my arrival at RIDGE! July 17th. The day I signed my Employment Offer. Quite a day for me, to say the least. It was the culmination of what was truly one of the more difficult journeys of my life.
For example, my very first interview with Nicole Buttitta, the Vice President of Human Resources at RIDGE, took place at some strange truck stop somewhere in the wilds of Illinois!
Why? Because I was in the middle of a 3001-mile solo truck journey across the great expanse of America, from Long Island, NY to Davis, CA, to rejoin Amy, who at the time was my pregnant fiancee (being now my wife and the mother of our daughter!). Needless to say, I was in a hurry …
Anyhow, I’d like to share a strange little record of that particular day, which comes from what is now the manuscript of a book I am working on. It’s a book-length sectional narrative poem chronicling my cross-country drive. What follows is the Preface from the manuscript, which will hopefully do a better job of explaining exactly what I’m talking about:
“This book-length sectional poem chronicles a 3001-mile truck journey from Port Jefferson, New York to Davis, California that I undertook to rejoin my pregnant fiancée who’d flown ahead two weeks before. After 13 years of living all across this vast country, we were finally returning to our promised land of Northern California, to raise a child conceived in one of the most trying of all our many ports of call; the north shore of Long Island, a strange finger of land off the East Coast of America. On the drive I kept with me a digital voice recorder into which I entered a continual stream of spontaneous aural poetry as I tried to capture my thoughts, observations, and descriptions during the long and lonesome journey. The poem is comprised of 96 sections, each of which is essentially a loose transcription of each entry into the recorder.”
So that’s what the book is, a somewhat more structured transcription of everything going through my mind as I struggled though that trip. And in thinking about my anniversary today, it occurred to me that Ridge, and my first interview with Nicole, makes a brief cameo in the poem. I’ve included this section below, and in order to give some context, I’ve also included a few sections before and after as well.
Heading back east towards New York:
a car loaded on a trailer, behind a rental truck—
and I just say, “Good luck.”
on the side of a
empty stretch of
German Shepherd, I think,
but with a COLLAR on.
That can NOT
be a good story.
What a confluence of names!
Peru, Illinois’ Tiki Inn, featuring The Pine Cone Restaurant.
Wow . . .
Quite a scare this morning, actually;
apparently we’ve got a coolant leak.
I wasn’t on the road but a minute when the engine light went off,
the dashboard beeping, the coolant level sign flashing,
all of a sudden the engine completely cuts out—
I pull over, semis rushing by me, wind blasting my head,
my plans of making California in anything resembling good time
evaporating like steam off the radiator . . .
Fortunately, problem averted,
knock on wood,
for the time being.
Of course, I did pour a bunch of drinking water in,
then opened the manual and found out I’m not supposed to add water.
But the mixture still looks green,
and I’ve got 50/50 if it runs down again;
hopefully, we’ll make it through the day without that happening.
I’d have to wait for the truck to cool before reloading,
which means hours on the side of the road, waiting.
I do have a job interview with Ridge Vineyards at three o’ clock today,
I could park and use the mobile . . .
I suppose I could do the cool-down then.
C’mon Mr. Penske!
. . .and I see a sign for “Moline/Rock Island,”
and I’ve got Johnny Cash’s “Rock Island Line” in my head,
and my God, it’s the sign for Highway 61!
How many songs have I heard chronicling that journey?
And just now, I see a man in a cowboy hat
fixing a fence, and then I’m
taking a bridge over a railroad track
that cuts through grass and trees.
Somewhere in there
is the America
that gave birth to my grandfather,
maybe even me.
Somewhere in the dust of these farmhouses
there’s a fingerprint
that forensics cannot trace;
it’s a heartprint, not a fingerprint,
traceable only by God!
. . . from the speakers, it’s
Neil Diamond, and he’s hitchin’
to a twilight train . . .
. . . in turnarounds, bored
Sheriffs watch for speeders, or
maybe kidnappers . . .
I’m just one of hundreds of trucks,
and I imagine I get no respect
from these journeymen roadster lifers,
because they know I’m a phony.
Well, I could be a phony. . .
But couldn’t I also be, as far as they know,
a professional mover?
That said, I do have
a lot of miles notched into my belt.
Ahead, the low tones in the sky
have taken a different feel,
like a key change
after the second chorus.
Hard to believe that interview, at an Illinois truck stop, in an overheating Penske truck, was the beginning of my journey to RIDGE! But that’s how it happened …
I’d like to offer one more poem of mine, if I may;
When I first started working here, and despite a commute that is an hour minimum at best, I would come about a half-hour early every morning, in order to spend some time up on the knoll writing, trying my best to capture the overwhelming grace, dignity, power, and beauty of this strange place on the mountain that would be my new workplace. Not too many weeks into the process, I began to realize that what I was working on was in fact one long inter-related work, as opposed to numerous short poems, as I’d originally thought. My goal was to complete the work in three months, to coincide with the end of my “trial period,” in the hopes that its culmination would function as a celebration of my having survived this 90-day inauguration. I made it, as did the poem, and at the time, I gave copies to my co-workers as a way of thanking them for accepting me. I’d like to share the poem here as well, as a way perhaps of thanking RIDGE for not only having me, but for granting me this forum to express my feelings for and about this amazing Monte Bello world up here. The poem is entitled “From The Mountain This Morning,” and it goes a little something like this …
From The Mountain This Morning
As the kinky green napp skulling the hills
encases the strained hiss of a cyclist’s slender wheels
aching through the baking asphalt hairpins,
I rise above a plush fur of clouds
— above the birds, above the quarry, above the reservoir —
and come level with the shimmering hot yolk of the poaching sun,
feeling my skin as something separate,
as if sunburned.
It was the Italian nose for limestone
—the stonecutter’s compass—
that put the first vines in the ground here,
built the barns, made the wines.
With dynamite and mules,
they scraped the long road from the slopes,
carved the cellar from the broadside of Black Mountain.
The range attained the name Santa Cruz
— or, Holy Cross —
when the Spaniards came to claim
the Awaswas from their shamans;
Mission Santa Cruz, consecrated 1791,
a century before Osea Perrone’s first vintage,
two centuries before David Bennion died.
Below the knoll
beyond the tasting room,
a rock commemorates him;
one of four founders:
The newspaper said he died in an automobile accident
on the Golden Gate Bridge.
I’ll never ask if his body is beneath this rock,
but when I press my hand to its surface,
despite the shade,
it’s warm to my touch.
Peacocks are silent on Black Mountain
as I stand still in shadows that emit no light,
The essing road emerges
from the tundra of the clouds
like a lizard from beneath
a barn door — up here
the sun is so hot, I’ve already
forgotten the cold, wet chill
of the ascent.
A dog bark echoes through the valley,
the clatter and grumble
of a quarry truck
caroms up against the slopes,
a halo of bird chirp
circles my ears.
Limned by faint blue shadows,
a white backdrop;
against it a dragonfly
bobs and weaves, heading
south towards the
stubborn curving balance of the
slender mountain trees.
The cloudscape is flat
as a throw-rug, save for one
lone knoll to the east;
a misted dome, crest
of a bomb’s spreading fungus,
ice cap in a sea
of false stability—
This is the arctic of the skies,
a polar second story,
a floor that one could fall through,
landing finally in the cold,
moist morning of the valley.
Atop Black Mountain,
a winding road behind me,
the quarry silent.
Like Christmas bows curb-
side on a bright trash day, the
The sound of car wheels
far down the serpentine road;
Like a questioning
eyebrow, dust hovers above
the fog-bound quarry.
I want to write, “I
see bird backs from above,” but I
don’t, because I don’t.
No fog this morning at all,
only the persistent malevolence
of the pollution strip
that binds San Jose
to the shimmering blue mirage
of foothills in the east.
A stranger has entered
the village of the air;
a cold, sharp stranger
that brings blood to the ears,
raises arm hair,
causes shivers with no seeming cause.
The dead-leaved heart
of autumn, bathed in a glaze
of viscous mystery,
beats firmly in his breast,
this autumn hobo,
as he comes once again
to the ancestral home of
wanderers, the mountain.
And across the shining silver
surface of the reservoir,
a thousand simmered mist-pixies,
warming in the ladders of the dawn.
The knoll is freckled
with shards of broken glass—
of Mexican beer bottles,
some so old their edges
have worn smooth,
as if polished by the tide.
The winds keep the small clearing
clear, push the detritus
up against a perimeter
of low tenacious bushes;
a glittering fringe
around the dusty brown pate
of the mountain’s weathered brow.
Like congas in the round,
old wine barrels encircle
the lot where the vineyard
workers park. October beats
a breeze on their drums
that can be heard clear
down to the reservoir;
the rhythm grips
the sky’s green reflection,
makes its figure swing
as gently as a ballad.
My back to the valley below,
gazing up at the remainder of the mountain,
I spy rooftops looming over
weaving tree lines.
Who lives at the top of this world,
and can they see me down here,
trying to spell their dreams out
Beware of Rattlesnakes;
the words etched into weather-beaten
signs beside beige and gray
take their slopes
up to the knoll and pass
wily gnarled vines with
low centers of gravity, deep tenacious roots,
and wild dreadlocked limbs
medusa’d out over their wood-sifted cover.
The soil is riddled with holes;
mammals, reptiles, insects.
It’s autumn now, the once-docile breeze
is teething; tiny brittle bites
as it passes through the leaves.
Feel the soft hairs in your ears
vibrate with their whispers.
In the distance, the unlubricated
churn of machinery trundling
over soil that prepares to turn its palms up
with a questioning suggestion;
pick a hand.
Crisp autumn morning;
a deer heart’s worth of inno-
cence stirs my soul.
In a clearing, the
new wind reminds me, you can
fall off a mountain.
At the insistence
of the wind, thin mountain brush
fidgets, pointing east.
Birdless, the wind-swept
air; snakeless, the cold, dry soil;
empty, my mouth, of words.
As might a painter’s
palette imitate the sky,
I try the mountain.
The wind, stripping our
revisions away, reveals
the first masterpiece.
Stone greets vine-root, brush
greets breeze, sun greets fog — Grateful,
I take autumn’s hand.
If terroir is a
sense of place, then my soul is
a moveable wine.
Happy Anniversary to me! And thank you Ridge!