The Wine Country Online

Dream Harvest Picnic

By Jack Burton

A cook and chef since the late 1960's, Jack writes stories of his well-traveled working tours of the tail-end of the twentieth century. His first published book, Sonoma Picnic, a California Travel Companion, is available through the Book Shop.

Autumn for me is a time of déjà vu. It is a season of subtle firsts that transport me to days long past. The hints and whispers of the coming winter can provide a dramatic neural response in the primate flush with summer's excess.

It may be a certain sharpness that sets me off on my reverie. A chill on the morning breeze. The skin may sense first the last days of summer and Granmother's old steamer trunk is full of quilts and memories. I found a waterfall frozen stiff and a round of Spanish coffees last fall! They were stashed away with my heavy wool socks under the Pendleton blanket.

Perhaps there is a visual cue. Helios is tracking low. In September he begins the winter short-cut across the vault of the northern sky. He takes his sweet time to linger on the vines of Africa and South America. The eye registers all the minute shifting of light and shadow. Each day a tick, each night a tock of the cosmic clock. The telltale retreat of summer's green vigor is the promise of autumnal painting on the branches and vines. I was startled to discover myself back in uniform one day last November. There was a heartbreaking bus ride from Detroit to Louisville, Kentucky hidden amongst the oak trees along the Chalkhill Road. A little chunk of 1970 squirreled away in Sonoma County, California.

I love the sound of Canadian geese. Southbound and way up high. Sometimes I hear them when I'm making the morning tea and I find myself in another kitchen. It is always a kitchen in a house in north Idaho and my wife and I are newly married. We had a lot of fun in that house. It is a rare treat for me to make tea for my wife in Idaho and serve it to her here in California:

"Honey, it's tea time. I've got a little something for you from way up North!"

Woodsmoke in October always does it to me. One day, someone in the neighborhood will put a stack of dry oak, or madrone, or eucalyptus in their fireplace. First you smell the newspapers. The newspapers burning and the chimney cold and unused since way back the first of May. Then comes the sweet smoke when the stones are warm. One whiff of that and I'm gone. I usually find myself in Detroit. It is the 1950's and I'm helping my dad rake elm leaves into the street. We used to burn the leaves in long piles raked up next to the curb. In those days night came early to the neighborhoods, with all the smoke from all the thousands of dads burning leaves in the streets. It was a very eerie sight. The fires in the twilight.

I am wistful for my father in the fall. Aching to kick through the ashes trailing sparks long gone. To hear him say: "What the hell have you done to those shoes!"