20 January 2011, Podere Conti, Lunigiana/Pontremoli, Italy
The morning’s weather breathed fury into my nostrils, for snow in the air passes its warning through suddenly-raw tunnels, even in Tuscany. It’s never the snow that has you shivering, but rather the blustery chill that comes early to prepare for the approaching clouds. The balcony was no place for morning coffee today. Instead of my ritual inhale of the expansive view just outside my door, I was forced into the main house by the wind gnawing at my fingertips.
Inside, the caffeteria was already boiling, as were the revving motor on the ATV outside, and Corrado, in a rush to go check something on one of the olive hills. I hopped on behind him and off we went, bouncing up the long driveway and then down a winding off-road. It was a challenge to keep a strong seat on the little 4×4, the muddy trail traversing and cutting through ages-old stone walls of tiered farm land. The field, protected by small cliffs and larger forestry, was a still patch nestled beneath the wind’s reach. The delicate olive branches barely whispered in the slightest of breeze and leftover nets from harvest lay like limp napkins after an hours-long dinner party with too much to eat and drink.
We collected the nets, piling them into heaps for collection at a later date. One net in particular, however, offered some resistance, and I knelt down to free it from a snag. There inside the well of the netting sat the runt of the litter, a small harvest from the tree above it, left behind in haste. I sat with the olives for a spell, admiring them in their infancy, and knowing full well how their orchard-mates turned out in the 2010 bottles. I have been enjoying the oil for a week now, and simply cannot get enough.
Sunday is the olive oil competition at the Comune in Pontremoli, where the Contis will receive notes about their oil and its properties. I imagine the competition will be quite impressive, since these hills have been producing for generations, and to a standard we can’t wrap our heads around in America. But kneeling beside the fruit of such a precious grade of olive oil brought me deeply into nature’s will to survive, these trees having fruited for years on abandoned land before the Contis came to care for them.
I am Auntie Lauren to Elio, the newborn Conti, and will, undeniably, be proud to watch him grow over the years. One by one, the children are connecting themselves to me individually, becoming branches on my tree of life. And now the olives, gentle beings I have touched and that carry me gently into thought. There is something about knowing, feeling, being with something in its infancy that wraps your roots into its very own. Sunday’s olive oil event has me feeling like a proud step-parent, or perhaps a Soccer Auntie on game day.