January 14, 2012

A Bird's Eye View

From the Fields — Farm News, January 9th

In the distance, the sun hangs over the grape vines that now look dead as they rest during winter before turning the sun's energy into fruit for the next season. Most of their leaves have fallen off exposing the vines that have grown crookedly on the trellis. These vines will soon be pruned off for the new season.

Today they remain, giving the vineyard an authentic, rustic feel. From these vines hang dead, dry leaves that the wind and gravity have not yet brought to the ground. The floor of the vineyard is scattered with all of the other leaves that have dropped from the vines.

Growing through these brown leaves are lush, green clover and fava bean plants that were seeded as a cover crop in fall. The colors scream out fall, despite it technically being winter. The leaves are brown. The vines have a deep red tint. The brown earth is still visible between the newly sprouted cover crops. The hills are still dark yellow in the background and the sky is a crisp blue. Hidden beneath the ground cover in the vineyard are little rodents that are not easily or often seen by the human eye.

This is what the hawk is for.

He patiently sits on a post in the vineyard watching the floor. He is not scared of the passing vehicles. This is one of his favorite spots, but I have seen him on the other side of the driveway perched on a road sign and sometimes on the top of the persimmon trees that line the driveway. Most often though, he is seen sitting on this post in the vineyard. I stop to take a close look, his head slowly turns to meet mine; his dark, round eyes stare me down. I am close enough to see the sharp point on the end of his beak.

His feathers match the colors in the vineyard, red and brown on top and speckled white breast. The feathers that go down his legs ruffle in the wind. His attention leaves me and is focused back to the vineyard floor. In a fluid motion, he falls from his perch, glides between the rows of the grapes and sinks his talons into what I imagine is a field mouse. On the ground, he turns his head to look at the surroundings before starting his meal.

Amused, I begin driving slow down the drive way toward the farm office.  The ecosystem on the farm is one of its most precious resources.