Palisade orchards might be six months from dripping with their famous ripe peaches, but that doesn’t mean it’s not busy around there. If you look down the rows, through the barren branches and across the fields you’ll see why. It’s pruning season.
Workers are giving fruit trees their seasonal trim. (A little off the top, please?) The sun is out again after a snow—a gift during a much too warm winter with little moisture. Workers set up the ladders or ride on flatbeds through the orchards, long scissor-like pruning tools in hand. They pile up the downed limbs and twigs, removing them from the rows lest insects find a cozy home for multiplication … and I don’t mean 2 x 2 = 4. Think 2 x 2 = zillions of pests.
Labor needs aren’t just in the summer and harvest season. It’s year round. Child and Migrant Services (CMS) in Palisade is a lifeline. They are a network for farmers to connect with those looking for work. Plus, migrant workers find community at CMS. Director Karalyn Dorn says orchard work takes a lot of knowledge, skill, dedication. As a result, farmers like to hire the same guys (or gals) each year. “It’s a win, win,” says Dorn.
Even with the pruning activity in February, the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway is pretty quiet. Sure, only a few country stores are open. (If you’re low on lavender and olive oil stop into Sprigs & Sprouts on Hwy 6.) Roadside fruit stands say “Thank you” and “Closed.” The good news for winter agritourists, though, is many of the gates to wine tasting rooms are open. (Thank you, Maison le Belle Vie!)
One of our family’s adopted holiday mores that developed into a favorite over the years is the Christmas stocking—it is both occupational therapy and tradition.
The first thing we do after we get up is put together two holiday treat plates: regular and gluten free. After filling our cups with something hot or cold, we settle on the couch and indulge in a nibble. I take down the stockings that have been wondrously filed during the night for each of us. We take turns pulling one item from the stocking, guiding Katie to find hers. Each item is individually wrapped—even lip balm or pens—so that every gift is special. (The un-wrapping process also extends the time in front of the fireplace sipping coffee, savoring a treat, and snuggling.)
Even at twenty-eight years old, for Katie reaching into the stocking and pulling something out is still a skill to practice, it is therapeutic. We reward every effort with applause and praise and I think that that is more her motivation than whatever is inside. The Christmas stocking ritual is one that we treasure not because it is an iconic holiday activity, but because it is something that we can do together. This was not always the case.
When Katie was small the Christmas holiday season was a time I did not look forward to. In fact, I dreaded it. Besides the long school break that afforded little stimulation for Katie and caregiving help for me, illness came like clockwork. More than once we have been in the emergency room on Christmas Eve. Nights were sleepless, not listening for reindeer’s hooves on the rooftop or Santa sliding down the chimney. They were spent trying to quiet the crying and comfort the ailments. Add to that our isolation from social norms of other children’s activities and excitement and you had a recipe without sugar and spice.
Today our child is grown and living in a group home—a gift that did not come out of an over sized red stocking and is one for which we are grateful year round. Living in a group home has changed Katie: she has matured, maybe more so than she might have staying under mother’s microscope. She sleeps through the night, she is healthier, and most importantly, she is happy. I think that part of this is due to the fact that the group home pace is her pace. She is no longer trying—with my prompting—to keep up with “normal” children…young adults.
We have gone from barely “surviving the holidays” to enjoying them together. And while I am spiritual, though not
religious, this is a true Christmas miracle.
Happy Winter Solstice. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukah.
(I gathered the stocking stuffers featured in the photo while touring around the Grand and North Fork Valley conducting interviews. These culinary and sensory treats have been wrapped and are on their way to loved ones. Below is a list of the businesses when I found them.)
Clarks Orchards, Colorado Cellars, Cross Orchards Historic Site, Fire Mountain Fruit, Lamborn Mountain Farmstead, Meadery of the Rockies, Sage Creations Organic Farm, Springs and Sprouts, Z’s Orchards (Richard—only the label, we ate all the beets.)
Thanksgiving Day is not just an isolated twenty-four hours of gratitude event, with related and unrelated hand-holding, pie-hole stuffing, and wish-bone splitting stints. Nor is it only the over-eating coma calm before the Black Friday retail storm elbows its way into the holiday season. Thanksgiving Day is a porch-light reminder of daily practice.
Why this day out of the 365 day imperfect Gregorian Calendar? Why late autumn when early winter storms create an antithesis of feelings in holiday travelers? We need to turn back the clocks to tick off the accounts…
Celebrations of the harvest go back to ancient days when the end of summer meant winter hardship. Celtic traditions of bountiful merriment began not in November, but at the Autumnal Equinox (September 21st), or “Harvesthome.” The Celts not only shared the reaping of what they sewed, they prayed to the pagans that it would be enough to get though the dark days until the return of the sun and plantings began anew—until the cycle of life began again.
Historians document the “observation” of early colonists’ first Thanksgiving Day in America back to the summer of 1623. How Thanksgiving Day came to fall on a Thursday follows a corn maize of proclamations by politicians and presidents from George Washington to Abe Lincoln to Colonial Governor Jonathan Belcher. Thanksgiving Day in the states now falls on the last Thursday of November thanks to a congressional declaration in 1941.
Whatever the month, whichever the day, there would be no family and friends’ feast with turkeys, cranberries, potatoes, and favorite fixings (mushroom and chestnut stuffing!) without the American Indians who shared their bountiful skills and gifts from Mother Nature with the Plymouth Rock newcomers. Their traditions of daily gratitude for grains and beasts and bounty is a broken-bread ritual shared by many Christians around the supper table. Yet the American Indian mealtime practice of thanks goes beyond the gift of food, it goes out to all that has lived and died under the sun and the moon.
On a personal note…I write this for A Bountiful Heritage with gratitude to those from the Grand and North Fork Valleys and beyond who have shared their time and their stories for my book. Thank you.
Cross Orchards Historic Site is a historic fruit ranch brought back from the dead.
From 1896-1923, the Massachusetts-based Red Cross Land and Fruit Company ran one of the largest and most productive fruit ranches in Colorado. With 243 acres and over 22,000 trees—mostly apple—the site was alive with growing and harvesting. Then came the codling moth and other challenges for the offsite owners.
The ranch died a slow death.
In the 1980s, the ranch rose from the grave, up out of the “weeds as big as trees,” and twenty-four acres of the original ranch site were saved from being buried under demolition and sub-divisions. The community united around the project, with the Territorial Daughters leading the way.
Territorial Daughters are still preserving history…and apple butter.
Territorial Daughter of Colorado volunteers can be seen in era-appropriate costume making treats on the wood cooking stove for Fall Day on the Farm this October 18, 2015. Other historical demonstrations include blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, and pressing cider.
Cross Orchards Director of Operations says Fall Day on the Farm is “a celebration of the harvest.”
Cross Orchards Historic Site is an opportunity for our 21st Century culture to travel back in time. It is a generational experience: children, parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents come together for the day. Walking into history—whether it’s the packing shed, the bunkhouse, or the summerhouse—is an opportunity for older generations to take youngsters by the hand and share their own walks down memory lane.
At Fall Day on the Farm history is very much alive!
Fall Day on the Farm:
Hours: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Cost: Free to members, family groups – $15, Kids – $3.50, Seniors – $4, Adults – $5.
Click here for map.
Cheers! Today marks the first day of the four day 2014 Colorado Mountain Winefest in Palisade, Colorado.
Viticulturists, epicures, and designated drivers come from all over Colorado, her neighboring states (especially Utah), and even as far away as Australia and China to sip, stomp, and dine among the vines. Tourists who drive along the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway visiting the wineries and farm stands are treated to a sight of lush foliage contrasted by a dry western horizon of the rocky Book Cliffs and the Colorado National Monument—fruit forward with a dry finish.
There are several events within the Winefest, including Festival in the Park, Wine, Dine, & Paint!, Winemakers Dinner, and Chocolate & Wine Tasting. Saturday morning kicks off early with the annual Tour de Vineyards bicycle ride for those who want to begin the day detoxing. Additionally, restaurants from Grand Junction and Palisade are offering special food and wine pairings.
Winefest is sponsored by the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE), a statewide nonprofit that supports research and education of the Colorado wine industry. The event began with a grassroots effort in the late eighties, a few volunteers, and limited interest. CAVE Executive Director Cassidee Shull says organizers begged vendors to participate. The original vision has since grown from five winery participants to fifty in 2013, with upwards of 5,800 attendees for the festival.
Photographer Casey Hess and I will be among the press covering year’s Winefest. We’ll be along the Tour de Vineyards route, at the Chocolate & Wine Tasting, and in the park with our cameras. Some of the photos will be featured in A Bountiful Heritage (coming out June 2015, published by the History Press) and on social media. So if you see us, wave, raise your glass, and say Salute!