Hands 3

John has been complaining about his hands lately. They’re cracked and irritated and purpled with wine stains.

Made worse when we filled our first oak barrels to age 1200 bottles. It was a bit of a circus, as always when we do something for the first time. He gripped a fancy nozzle to feed the barrels and yelled to keep me alert on the pump. We assumed there would be some kind of signal indicating almost full, like when you fill up your car. No such luck. No signal, just an exploding geyser of purple, gushing into the air, all over the pretty barrels and all over John.

Filling the Barrels, Geyser Method

Filling the Barrels, Geyser Method

Right on time for winter clean up. Time to move thousands of liters from one tank to another in sequence, remove the sediment, (“racking”) scrub the tanks furiously, move the wine back.  Inside the tanks with lots of cold water, a wet suit that keeps you soaked to the bone – even in gloves, hands take the brunt of it.

I admit, I have a thing about hands. Doctor’s hands, dentist’s hands, mason’s hands, garage mechanic’s hands, sculptor’s hands…

Cat in Stone

Cat in Stone

When we met, John was sculpting in wood, although his stone “cat” is my favorite of his early pieces. The years haven’t allowed much time for sculpture, but recently I’ve been wondering (and hoping) what his next subject will be. Perhaps that peculiar oak branch from the two-century tree that toppled in the winds of 2009.   Too heavy to drag up to the house, he tucked it under the cliff where it’s been curing and waiting.

Oak Branch Curing under the Cliff

Oak Branch curing under the cliff

It may be quite a wait, for I sense he has a larger, more urgent project in mind. I didn’t understand his methodology when we first moved to the farm, he was everywhere at once, starting projects in every corner of the land. Clearing up the dying orchard, tearing the ivy off the cliff, digging out the silted up lavoir

You’d think he’d be pleased with the frenzy of so many projects in the hopper, but instead, he grumbles every time he looks toward the river and takes in an eyesore of dying trees on the facing hillside. Another abandoned parcel. The valuable acacia’s have had a slow death, infected by mistletoe and smothered by the impenetrable thorn bushes.

Hillside in Need

Winter Hillside, sickly green

I watch him through my binoculars. Every afternoon he takes his tools and his purple cracked hands to the hillside.  Red jacket, orange chainsaw, slicing away at the underbrush and dead trunks.  Creating neat piles of firewood.  Whistling at each miniscule sign of life.  Placing ribbons to note survivors to spare from fire and steel. Imagining what will emerge.   Imagining the view.

Dying Acacias

Dying Acacias on Hillside

First Clearing on the Hillside

First Clearing

At the same time, he announces that his sinuous oak branch is cured.  Out come the old sculpture tools.   I watch him contemplate the wood, with its strange aperture in the middle.  He’s wondering what’s masked under the rough exterior; wondering what he has to remove to reveal what is there.  A gingerly way with the chisel, a bit taken off here and there, he goes quiet and inside himself as he tries to seduce the subject to reveal it’s name.   Intention, energy, thoughts, hands.

Exploring the Oak

Exploring the Oak

Little by little, as the name of that oak piece emerges, other names are emerging here too, on a very different scale.  Hillsides, pastures, springs, woods… they’re all being explored, poked, coaxed and imagined.  The entire Domaine du Petit Roque has become fertile ground for a hands-on, long term, large-scale, walk-about sculpture project in process.    A lifetime of work, even for this peripatetic man with purple hands.

John's Hands

Winter Hands


Fortunately, he has an extra pair.

Henri in the Grove

Henri in the Grove

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3 thoughts on “Hands

  • Chris

    Hi Mary! This is lovely. I love all your posts!! John’s hands remind me of Tom’s this winter, cracked and hardened and stained. Tom has been doing a lot of renovation work. He has found using neem oil and Badger Balm every night help tremendously!! xoxo, C

  • Michèle

    Dear Mary,
    I always enjoy reading your posts. It’s like being a “peeping Tom”, looking through a keyhole and discovering something always different, always interesting, magic…
    Anyway, a small comment regarding the barrels. Some big Bordeaux Châteaux actually paint their barrels with the precious garnet juice! So, no problem, just keep on splashing!
    As for John’s hands, he needs a magical ointment I think you can get from the local chemist, called “Baume des Pyrénées”, made with beeswax and vaseline. It’s perfect for winter cold or windy weather.
    Keep the spirit!