Frost fighting with The Help

by Kit Munro

Are audiobook aficionados stereotyped? Maggie Gram thinks so, in her essay “listening to books” she writes:

I thought about starting this essay by insisting that I listen to audio books for work, so that I could not be mistaken for that other kind of person, that kind of person who listens audio books because it brings her some kind of unsophisticated pleasure. I am not, I wanted you to know, your Aunt Paula. My kitchen is not decorated with rooster towel racks and rooster potholders and rooster trim. I am a very serious person.

“[S]ome kind of unsophisticated pleasure”? Oh well. I listen to audiobooks for unsophisticated pleasure. I hope no one minds.

To reduce the level of sophistication of my pleasure even more I have been listening to The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Another black mark against me according to Maggie Gram:

It would be a long time before your Aunt Paula started listening to The Help in her car.

And yes, I have been listening to The Help in my car. Well sort of, I have been listening in my Ute, while frost fighting.

The Help is a bestseller. Set in the civil rights era, it revolves around people who were basically servants. I cringe at my use of the word servant, but I can think of no better word to describe the awful way many of these women were treated.

The Help has received a great deal of criticism. However, for an introduction to Jim Crow, Civil Rights and the deep south in the 1960s,  it is adequate enough. Most importantly though, The Help is an easy read. That is what is required for an audiobook that is going to be listened to while frost fighting.

Frost fighting is probably one of the physically easiest jobs on the farm, but it is also one of the most stressful. In the wee small hours of the night the entire grape harvest hangs in the balance. If the shoots  on the vines freeze, they die. Taking with them the tiny specks that will become bunches of grapes. The months and months of pruning and wrapping (see here and here) could be wasted, the entire years income could be gone in a couple of hours.

It has happened before.

To fight the frost, on MoonRaker vineyard we have two pretty impressive machines called, rather grandly, wind machines. One in each of the two blocks. They sort of look like wind turbines, but smaller and green. Rather than harvesting wind, they make it.

This is the wind machine in the front paddock roaring in to life, thirty minutes or so before the sunlight hits the grapes. It was turned on late because the temperature only plummeted just before dawn. This wind machine is a half sized one, well the blade is full size but its “trunk” is half the height of a normal wind machine. The blade seems very close when it is turned on.  It moves very, very fast.

Sometimes the temperature approaches freezing much earlier in the night. Occasionally as early as 10pm. When that happens these frost machines go all night and we stay up all night with them. Waiting and hoping that nothing will go wrong and that the wind machines will generate enough wind to raise the temperature just enough to stop the frost settling on the vines. If the wind machines are not enough to raise the temperature then the frost pots are lit.

These turn the wind machine from a fan in to a giant heater. Neither turning the wind machine on, nor lighting the frost pots are hard, or time consuming jobs. Basically all that there is to do is wait while everything hangs in the balance. And so, like your Aunt Paula, I listen to an audiobook. This unsophisticated pleasure makes a very long night bearable.

And then, after working all day then fighting frost all night, words cannot describe the pleasure the sight of the first sunlight hitting the hill tops  brings.

I found my copy of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help here. If anyone knows of another place this audiobook is available please let me know in the comments below.

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