It’s springtime in the Texas Hill Country, that hopeful time when the green returns. Spring brought with its green a carpet of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush and a brand new experience for me. Through my years of gardening, I have planted seeds, seedlings, bulbs, bare-root roses, flowers, shrubs, herbs and vegetables, but I never planted a grapevine.
Good friends, Dale and Becky, who own a ranch across several hills and valleys from us have been preparing a section of their land to plant a vineyard. For the last couple of years, they have removed cedar and rocks, plowed the land, erected deer-proof fences and an irrigation system, and ordered their rootstock. With the rows marked, arbor erected, holes dug, and 1,277 plants delivered, they called in family and friends for a weekend planting party. What fun and what work and what a learning experience!
I stood in the morning fog, gloves on, and ready to go to work and listened as the viticulturist told us about the importance of choosing the right location—southern exposure with drainage and a place where air can get to the vines. She also explained the grafting procedure that produced the plants—a short piece of scion, which is the piece of stem with the buds, is inserted into the rootstock. That union is covered with wax which holds the two pieces together and protects their union until the two pieces grow together. The rootstock is chosen because it is strong and pest and disease resistant. Then she showed us how to mound the soil inside the hole, spread the roots, and then start packing dirt. We filled, tamped, and did the Penny-pull on each plant. Then we learned how for a couple of years, the blooms that would produce grapes will be pruned so that the vines can use the energy to grow strong rather than in producing grapes.
Lots of pondering can be done in the vineyard. Somehow this experience caused that passage of scripture in John 15 to take on new meaning for me—that passage where Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” Later in the passage, Jesus reminds us that we are the branches. Digging in the dirt and planting grapes for a few hours gave me time to think about Jesus as the rootstock, and how it is He who makes us, the scions, strong and protects us from outside invaders that would sap us of life and make us fruitless. Mercy, love, and grace are the wax that hold the two together. It’s our hope for abundant living that causes us to ask our Father to graft us into his vine. He is our hope for eternity.
Paul Tillich, a master theologian of the 20th Century, said, “Wine is like the Incarnation—it is both divine and human.” Wine is truly the work of many hands. That was so evident in the preparation and planting of the vineyard. And harvest time and wine-making will bring more and different hands. That’s the human part. But the divine? Ultimately God’s hands will hold back the destructive elements, and bring the sunshine and the rain and the breezes that will bring the harvest.
As I got off my knees and stood up to stretch my legs, I looked out across the land and the vineyard and thought about John 15. I saw the perfect picture of hope. I saw folks of all ages from young ones to our ninety-six-year-old friend with a trowel in his hand planting grape vines. They all have hope and expectations. It was hope that one day there would be a harvest that brought these folks together for a work day on a foggy spring morning in the Texas Hill Country. And some of us look forward to sitting on their front porch and looking out over the vineyard with Dale and Becky in the years ahead. Perhaps while we are sipping sweet KVR wine, the work of many hands, we’ll remember the day the vines were planted and what hope we had.
Thanks to our neighbor and friends, I have another picture of hope in my mind. What pictures of hope do you have?