The one who got away

DSCN0846I’ve made many mistakes in my life, and in my career. But the one I’ve been kicking myself over lately is the man who I let slip through my fingers. Not a romantic interest or even someone I can say I know. Rather, he is a charming old farmer who I ran across as he was working the land he apparently loves.

Here’s how it happened:

I was driving on 101, leaving San Luis Obispo and heading home to Fresno. The area is so beautiful, I was trying to see everything while driving too slowly on the freeway. I’m a native not a tourist; still I am enamored with the beautiful California countrysides.  I watched the landscape start to change to scattered buildings and could see a town coming up. While looking for my next freeway change, I spotted a tractor kicking up dust in a vineyard, a building offset in the background, perfect blue sky. Basically, a beautiful representation of California. I pulled off the freeway, grabbed my camera, got out and got the shot.

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I waved to the man on the tractor and got back in my car. But before I could turn over the engine, the tractor had reached my end of the row and the farmer was waving me over to him.

I was a bit worried, but put on my nicest smile and rehearsed my lines in my head “I’m with the media, but we’re ag-media. I just wanted a picture of your beautiful land. Please don’t have me arrested.” I didn’t get the first word out before the guy knocked me off my game.

“Do you like wine?” he asked me. And why yes, yes I do. “There’s a wine tasting a mile down the road. At least a hundred people there. You should go and have fun.”

We talked a minute about the wine tasting, then I asked him about the land he was working. It’s his land, with hundreds of acres of wine grapes. He told me about his tractor (farmers love talking about their tractors) and about when he learned to drive one.

“I was 10 years old,” he said. “It was just after World War II. My dad didn’t want to learn. He led a horse-drawn set up and didn’t want to drive the tractor. So I learned for him.”

Not too long after, the man had his own vineyard and his own tractor, and he’s been in the family business ever since.

“See that vine right there,” he said pointing to the one just a few feet from me. He chuckled, “That vine’s 90 years old. It’s older than I am.”

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We talked for only a few minutes, but I’ll never forget his beautiful face as he sat on his tractor talking to me. Round, with the deep wrinkles of time and too much sun exposure, bright, happy eyes and an easy, sincere smile.

And all completely covered in dirt.

I mean completely covered.

What a great portrait for an ag reporter to get. And there I stood, camera in hand – and so engrossed in my conversation with the man, it never occurred to me to get his picture.  Nor did it occur to this radio lady to record a friendly interview with him to use in my show.

Telling people’s stories is something I do for a living, but I suppose I still believe simply listening and being engaged in the moment will always be more important.

So, this wonderful, beautiful wine grape grower will always by my one who got away.

Who’s yours?

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