Suffering from jet lag, my first night back in Germany is little restful. My early afternoon arrival facilitates my staying up until ten in the evening, but as soon as my head hits the pillow, I rest in the arms of Morpheus (apologies to my husband). When I first open my eyes the red, glowing numbers on the digital clock read two, but I manage to go back to sleep until I hear uncommon, yet familiar music — church bells pealing. Three crystalline notes float across the roofs of houses filled with sleepers. Lying awake, additional sounds travel through the open window. My father’s home is only two blocks away from the railroad station and tracks, with public transportation conveniently reachable in five minutes on foot, but in the darkness, the rattling of freight trains reaches my ears. I next count four, then five clangs of the bell, and because my tossing from right to left to prone to supine has not resulted in the desired effect, I finally get up.
By six I pull the door silently behind me, trying not to wake anybody. I long to exercise my legs, still tense from the long flight, and set out for a walk. In Colorado, dawn arrived at about this time, but at this latitude I find myself in the company of Orion, the Big Dipper, and a sliver of the waning moon. As the horizon slowly transitions from black to grey to blue, I am strolling among mowed wheat fields covered in stubble, whence emerges the rustling of mice. I am not alone in paying attention to the rodents, and buzzards and sparrow hawks are poised to break their fast. I stride past apple and walnut trees, their branches laden.
In Colorado, around 9,000 feet, I took my leave from aspen already ablaze in their autumn glory. Here, 300 feet above sea level, the leaves of the deciduous trees are only beginning to turn, but already they bear edible gifts. To my delight, my dad greeted me with my favorite homemade plum cake yesterday.
Suddenly the air resounds with shots, but not the kind that worry me. It is the season of the grape harvest, and the noise attempts to keep hordes of hungry starlings and crows away from the luscious, juicy fruits. The pervasive aroma of fermenting grapes hangs over the town and vineyards, bringing back memories, deeply lodged in my olfactory gyri.
I grew up in Rhine Hesse in southwest Germany, a major agricultural region with innumerable hills draped in grape vines. All summer long, wine festivals in small towns offer the opportunity to sample different vintages, and each September and October, the new crop is harvested, an activity chiefly mechanized today. It used to be entirely manual, and as a schoolgirl I participated many a year in order to shore up my allowance. Fall also comes with a culinary specialty, the still aging, so-called new wine served with “zwiebelkuchen”, a type of onion quiche, the German savory equivalent of pumpkin pie.
The rising sun warms the earth, disperses the nocturnal vapors, and tints the clouds pink and orange. My first morning back in my childhood home is magical: prolonged, understated, and filled with the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the days when I was surrounded by them daily, without appreciating them as much as I do nowadays.
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