From Water to Wine

A little rain makes me nostalgic. Persistent rain makes me restless. Restlessness produces an almost gag-like reflex of intentional action. I’ve committed myself these past few wet, dreary weeks to a strict diet and exercise regimen that I survive by promising myself it’s only temporary. I hit the weights and the elliptical while I’m waiting for the sun to return and warm my spirits.

When the Spring Cleaning bug hits me, it’s not limited to closets and base boards. Physical appearance is one facet of self-improvement. The bright summer sun is as unforgiving to collections of dust as it is to extra pounds around the waistline. With bathing suit season fast approaching, I’m riding the urgency wave to a beach two sizes smaller. Free from contending undertows, I’m on trajectory to reach that shore.

Spring also ushers in attention to the garden. In brief reprises from the downpours, I’ve tended to the lawn and the plants. While the improvement efforts in my midsection support spring productivity, the relentless rains these past few weeks have ushered in an onslaught of garden growth… and touch of death. My impatiens doubled in size. My snap dragons are blooming again. There are green shoots marking the beginnings of vegetables all throughout the bed, though lacking any pattern reminiscent of Grandpa’s rows. The herb garden, however, sadly drown.

Restlessness produces action in the soil like it does in my fitness efforts. What we see on the surface of the garden is beautiful only if the unseen portions of the plants – its roots – are healthy and thriving. Since I can’t see what’s beneath the earth, I assess the health of each plant by its leaves and flowers. I add nutrients, prune away dead springs, rip out weeds… all to care for an investment I can’t actually see.

But when I planted my garden, I wasn’t excited about the roots. I was just waiting for the blossoming festival. In fact, the critical function of the hidden mitochondria of the garden didn’t really hit me until this weekend when Charming, ever-ready to help me cross another item off my bucket list, took me on a wine tasting tour. We had an estimated four hours before the rains would resume, so we headed west and dabbled.

Each winery we visited boasted its own unique qualities. One vineyard’s processing facility was built into a hillside with granite soil in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the cellar, the architect had left one wall of natural granite. There, more than thirty feet below ground, the water glistening over the stone mesmerized me. While this has untold meaning for the winemaking process that I couldn’t retell after one lesson with the granite distracting me, its effect for me was to force me to consider the importance of what’s beneath the surface.

Above ground and outside again waiting for Charming, the rains had resumed and abated for a moment just long enough for me to stare at the hillside laden with elements that would eventually become wine. What was above the surface was breathtaking, but I found the threatening storm clouds above more powerful still when I considered their vast reach, deep into the heart of the winery.

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That encumbered, pregnant moment produced a singular awareness. All of my Spring Cleaning tasks have centered around what you can see. Scrub, dust, and vacuum. Fold and hang clothes. Frequent the gym and daily deny myself potato chips. Even the garden has been a direct product of my desire to see growth and vegetation… above the surface.

Descending the stairs some two dozen feet into a dimly lit commercial wine cellar, I was blind to anything but the glistening beads of water clinging to granite. I could see what was happening beneath the topsoil. This was the figurative mitochondria of the garden, the powerhouse driving potential for all future growth above the horizon. This winery thrives because it focuses its attention on what can’t be seen from the typical vantage point.

And the tour gave me a long enough glimpse at the foundation of growth below that when I saw the fields again afterward, I knew they wouldn’t exist if the roots I couldn’t see weren’t healthy and thriving.

I’ve dropped a pant size, but am I really healthy and thriving? I’ve managed to exhibit self-control and discipline in my housework, lawn care, and fitness formula, but what’s going on beneath the surface?

I have found it true for me (and would hope I am not alone in this) that when I’m restless with my life, when it’s been cloudy a bit too long, that I turn to something I can control. In the past that’s been picking up a new skill like troubleshooting computers or leading worship at church. I find something to throw myself into that would be considered self-improvement.

This time, it was that bucket list item: Achieve my ideal weight. It’s now or never, I thought, as I considered my list of 30 Things to Do in My Thirties and pushed aside all the ones that aren’t possible yet. When the definition popped out in my shoulders and I fit a dress I haven’t been able to squeeze into since last summer, it was reassuring.

Because we value beauty, and isn’t beauty what we see? It’s in that plush pink of impatiens blossoms and the promise of a tomato just forming. For a plant, what’s beneath the surface will match what’s above it. Healthy roots produce healthy blossoms.

But if a person is healthy on the outside, it is a product of only the physical. It does not reflect the emotional, spiritual, or mental spheres. For me to effectively exterminate the Spring Cleaning bug, I needed to turn my attention to what’s beneath the surface.

Suspended in the foothills, surrounded by lush green and threatening indigo, I was keenly aware of what I could not see. I imagined a cross-section of my life and wondered if there would be water droplets glistening there, too. When Charming walked me back to the car, I knew that what I would remember most about this wine tasting tour was not the unique blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but slabs of granite.

And I knew the next phase in my self-improvement is to tend to my roots. I need to be firmly planted on the Solid Rock if I’m going to yield any fruit of substance. What’s beneath the surface now is critical, because when I’m six feet under, it won’t matter how clean my house was or what size dress they bury me in. These are signs of physical beauty, but health and capacity to thrive start in the soil.