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Exquisite Alchemy

Chapter Text

Small gods tempt {...} they take what’s already ours then offer it back to us at twice the price, bountiful and cruel at the same time, for no good reason. The sort of gods whose attention brings inspiration inseparable from torment.
- Gemma Files, Experimental Film

I have been told that the development of ego is necessary for healthy psychological development but I have always found myself wondering: at what cost?
- Eric Glomski, “Wine and the Power of Love”

Chapter Text

How are you able to reduce me
with this exquisite alchemy?
Earth and rain and sun have left me undone
passion in every drop upon my tongue.

 

He kept telling himself it was when this happened, or that happened. When they discovered they were each born in the Midwest, and had each lived in Boston for a time. That they were both half-Irish, and had familial ties to spirits and the purveying thereof. That they had both come to California to discover their true passions. They’d both been young fathers, and were devoted to the pursuit of sensualism, as indulging all the senses placed one in the Now, aware of the interconnections of life and of the oneness of all things.

But it had really started from the moment Maynard laid eyes on Eric’s lanky, grinning, sandy-haired presence and felt a pang of recognition, a longing for a past someone he believed he couldn’t quite reach now.

Because the other reminded him so much of Danny at times it was downright spooky. A grace, an ease, a determination of both body and mind. A smile which was open and joyful, a soul with just enough charisma to make an impression, but not enough to cause disdain.

Maybe he just had a thing for dirty blonds, he liked to poke fun at himself with such a thought. But he knew it was far deeper than that. Deep and wide as a canyon, as glorious as the dawn in this land he already adored. But with, and through, this man, he would learn there were no limits to that love.

 

*******************************

So easily you speak to me
with this exquisite alchemy.
I taste the path you walk
every tree, every flower, the river and the rock.

 

Within three minutes of their introduction, shaking a calloused hand which was not entirely clean (and for which the other apologized), being momentarily stunned by those eyes like faded denim, he knew this man had lived in Boston, or somewhere in Massachusetts. He didn’t have an accent as such, but his voice was sonorous and the cadence was familiar, a hint of flattened vowels. Tangles of dark blond waves bleached by the sun at the ends and a smile entirely natural and welcoming.

There was the same sense of intuition he had felt when Herb had first driven him to Jerome. That feeling of home, of familiarity which was cellular in its’ overwhelming rightness.

“Are you lost?” he was asked. And Maynard had almost answered I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

“Are you Eric? I’m Maynard, and, well, I’m here to ask your indulgence. I want to learn from you, I want to work for you. Jon told me you’re the best teacher he knows.”

That smile again, it was like when a cloud moves aside and the lifegiver shines forth once more. The light enveloping you from without and within.

“Oh...well, I am starting my own winery and I could always use more able bodies.”

“I’m your man,” he said, and was glad that the other was the only one to hear him effacing himself so thoroughly.

“Come down to the cellar and let’s talk.”

And he followed as if he had been doing so all his life. It was only then that he realized the other hadn’t recognized him, had no idea who he was. He was almost sad to understand that he would have to eventually contextualize himself rather than remain an uncomplicated figure of raw potential. Because the other would likely be unimpressed, his concerns were the sun and the rain, the earth and the vines, the intricacies of viticulture. Honest effort, holy labor.

And Maynard had never wanted anything so badly in his life.

 

*******************************

There is so much to teach me
with this exquisite alchemy.
Cultivating my patience
an entire world in my glass the prize.

 

“Growing grapes in this microclimate requires serious commitment,” Eric told him. “I imagine you’ve thought about that.”

“I once walked from Massachusetts to my hometown in Michigan.”

“No shit? I grew up in Boston.”

Maynard smirked. “I knew it, I could hear it in your voice.”

Eric laughed. “So how long did it take you?”

“Two weeks, more or less.”

“I used to spend about that much time in the gorges, back when I was mapping rivers here. You learn a lot about yourself as a person that way, don’t you think? Wandering in the wilderness.”

A nod, as they then moved through the struggles and triumphs of growing grapes in Arizona. It was possible, but it took so much more effort than in other regions. It was similar to those ancient places where it had all begun, and so therefore seemingly predestined.

It was revealed through their conversational meandering that they each had a son the same age, discussing the challenges of raising a child, a boy child, in this time and place; balancing the desire for emotional intimacy with an overwhelming need to work. Guarded for a decade as he had been about who he was, who he had been, what he wanted, what he was doing, what it all meant - Maynard found that offering himself up for Eric’s assessment was the easiest thing, like they were two versions of the same person. He was amused that Eric was younger than he was, but already considered the local maverick who was going to do interesting things with his Los Gatos pedigree. And that was before he had even crushed a single harvest of his own.

Humble yourself before wisdom and experience when it is deserved, he reminded himself. But he was also seduced, and knocked slightly off-balance at the ghosts this man was raising within him.

 

*******************************

 

Oh how you comfort me
with this exquisite alchemy.
My sorrows spent and I am unraveling
but you pull me back into myself, weaving your tapestry.

 

The man he was when he met this man, yet another soulmate on the path to realization, that man was weary and sore from the cost of realities. As there were many, he knew, situational and even hypocritical. But this was part of the plan, the plan to make his beloved immortal now. Her struggle transmutated into the most beautiful expression of her soul and the land.

They stood upon the slopes of the vines he had planted for her, nourished by her ashes. They were silent, listening to the wind and everything which spoke through it, gazing upon the hills.

“She used to dream she could fly. She would tell me her dreams, and the one she had the most was about flying. I used to think there was something wrong with me because I didn’t dream about flying. Not then. But I had a dream of this place and I was flying above it, looking down at it.”

“Had you been here before?”

“No, it was a premonition. A message. It just took me a while to finally understand. But this is where I finally give her everything she deserved.”

The other wisely didn't reply, though his gaze spoke of regret and empathy. He was lucky, his mother was right by his side to shore up his vision. And Maynard didn’t begrudge him that privilege. The minute he was aware that the other loved and valued his mother he knew it was another point in favor of their enterprise. For he would have done anything possible - in Heaven, Hell, or on Earth - to do the same. Have her beside him, always.

“We absolutely will honor her in every way.”

The way he spoke, so calm and measured, the frequency of his voice, it gave Maynard chills to listen to it. He imagined himself as one of Eric’s students in bygone years, drinking in all those stories and impressions, wanting to follow the teacher anywhere he might lead. This man had deep guru vibes but none of the ego usually ascribed to such a one.

A reflex of guilt then, musing on his desire rather than his mission. But she wanted that for him too - to know a love which would sustain him for all the years without her. He had yet to find it, and this wasn’t it, not exactly, but he felt something deeper all the same.

“So I’m not crazy, huh? Planting two acres to bring her back to life?”

Eric smiled. And oh, that smile, it devastated him completely.

“They always say visionaries are crazy. But that holy vision makes you who you are.”

He had never heard anything so seductive in all his life. His smiled his sad smile and tried very hard not to let the other be touched by the yearning which flooded him like the summer monsoons. Drowning within a craving to know this man in all ways.

 

*******************************

 

Draw me in, as I plead
with this exquisite alchemy.
Reciting a prayer, upon my knees
seeking the union only you can grant me.

 

He had sworn to himself after all those fights that he would never give his heart in that way again, even as he knew it was so easy to do so. To lose oneself in the pleasures of collaboration, to follow along the path of another’s vision, to further embellish it with what you knew of beauty, and anger, and wonder.

And they had clashed mightily, he and Danny. Maynard was shocked that such a thing had happened at all. Though he supposed it was bound to, up there in the rarified atmosphere of their success. He knew he would always fight with Adam because they were brothers, in a sense, close in age and interests and even perspective. Adam would dither and that drove him crazy - hell, it had even driven Paul right out of the band. Their process was not for the weak. You had to agree to follow every idea to its logical conclusion without knowing where, or when, that might be. And because they had braved the wastelands and brought back the treasure, Maynard knew it was the right thing to do. He accepted it for what it was.

But what he didn’t accept was all the bullshit that went with it. He was removed from it. He couldn’t stand to listen to Adam wondering - for the thousandth time - if they were already over, he couldn’t stand to listen to Danny proclaim that they were the best band on Earth if only because hardly anyone understood why, and he couldn’t stand to listen to Justin say, yet again: “Well I dunno, mate, if you don’t like my idea then come up with one of your own.” The New Guy was being sensible but there was something about that sensibility that made Maynard want to choke him, sometimes. Irrationality breeding monsters.

Because he was on the outside he could see all the flaws, and not necessarily the kuntsugi kind of scars, elegant evidence of bearing up under strain. These were flaws that would infect and blind and divide. Ready to walk away at any moment, now he had walked into something he knew he had to see through. He couldn’t leave if it got too hard, if he and Eric clashed. He had to make this work, had to surrender himself completely.

And it terrified him, to be so vulnerable.

Because when people get angry, the knives come out, looking for the vulnerable places to invade.

“I love you, man, but you make it so fuckin’ hard to understand you most of the time. Like it’s a game to you, to make me look stupid. Like you’re just so far above us, just tolerating us. Like you don’t need us - and that’s a goddamn lie. Why don’t you respect me?”

“Why don’t you respect yourself, Daniel, that would be my question.”

He wanted to walk away from the pain and chaos, appreciated that he could remove himself, at the very least. Geographically. Emotionally it wasn’t so easy.

But now, things were so good, this was his honest refuge from all of that. His dream within a dream, and he marveled to have someone so compelling who believed him, believed in him, wasn’t trying to play games or engage in self-destructive behavior. Who was willing to teach him everything he knew, every single thing, about how to coax glory from this stony soil.

“Do you believe in magic?”

“What kind of magic, exactly?”

“Just the concept, that it exists.”

“Sure. I’ve seen enough to know that there are things we don’t understand, and maybe we’re not meant to.”

“The Mother has her mysteries for certain.”

“Absolutely.”

He wanted to say: you know when people say this is the dream? This is a dream, but are you dreaming it too, I wonder.

They walked down the rows of vines which belonged to neither of them, listening to the whispers of their secret viticulture concerns.

“This sounds kinda bullshit, but thank god I’m here.”

“As opposed to?”

“Anywhere else.”

Eric nodded. “I’m grateful. But why do you think that’s bullshit?”

Maynard shrugged. “I’m hyperaware of insincerity, generally-speaking.”

Eric shrugged, a mirrored gesture. “I don’t have time for that bullshit. I farm grapes, you know? That’s all that really matters.”

Maynard flashed on the two of them, walking alongside Cedar Creek as Eric talked about the plans for his winery, the passion with which he described it

“Wanna trade places? You could totally do what I do, and you’re way better-looking.”

Eric laughed but there was also a certain knowing smirk within his expression, as if he’d heard it before. Maynard began to suspect his mentor was far more complex than he was willing to let on.

 

*******************************

 

Oh please seduce me
with this exquisite alchemy.
Take me to those places you command
hold my heart, beating, like the earth in your hands.

 

“Oh I was wild,” Eric confessed. “So wild.”

They sat on Maynard’s deck overlooking the mountains, the stars blazing bright, the lights of Jerome in the distance. The night bone-chilling as usual but so clear and pure that breathing deep could give you a headrush all on its own. Scents of sage and that butterscotch sweetness of ponderosa pine cut through the depth of the cold.

“Were you now...like, Caligula-level wild?”

They were more than a little drunk, having gone through several bottles from his deep and wide collection of Penfolds reds, and now a very old cognac which was best enjoyed with a fat Corojo. Blue drifts of smoke disappeared into the velvety blackness.

Eric chuckled, took another mediative puff on his cigar. “You have to remember, I spent a couple years before college on a fairly endless bacchanal.”

“With those dirty hippies.”

He laughed then, fingering long sun-bleached strands. “We might have been unwashed, but our intentions were good. So I had my share of being perpetually stoned, dancing naked in fields, dancing on bars, having lots of sex and navel-gazing and cheesy conversations.”

Maynard laughed, but his was low and somewhat mocking. “Oh I might have had a few of those myself. But no orgies?”

Now he blushed. Score one for me.

“Perhaps a few crowd scenes, so to speak, but...I did good enough just to actually make it with one person at a time, given how high I was most of the time. Or drunk. I know my limits but…”

“...sometimes it’s fun to blow right past them anyway.”

Eric held up his snifter and they toasted this notion.

“And you? Should I be asking the type of scenes you’ve participated in?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Uh...kinda?”

Maynard laughed for real, deep from the solar plexus.

“Picture this if you will: I had to have a conversation with our road manager while I was having intercourse with a very lovely, very willing young lady, because I was almost there and couldn’t bear to interrupt it plus the bus was leaving in 15 minutes and she had to be off it. So I’m, you know, going for it and I feel the orgasm building at the base of my spine, and he’s telling me about promotional shit we have to do in the next town, and she’s moaning the equal of any porn star and -”

“You weren’t fucking around when you said you were a multitasker.”

“Oh no I was not. Your turn.”

Eric tilted his head up and exhaled slowly. Maynard watched the smoke slither and spiral. He was beginning to truly appreciate watching his fellow sensualist enjoy particular pleasures, cataloging the sensations...the weight and taste of the smoke on his tongue, the buzz of the nicotine combined with the heat of the alcohol, the creamy finish mingling with the almost meaty flavor of apricot in the cognac.

“I woke up in someone’s apartment, and that person was not there. I had nothing on me but my keys and no idea where I had left my car.”

“This was in Prescott?”

“Yeah.”

“So when you say nothing -”

“I had to walk, naked, about ten blocks to where I thought I had left my car.”

“What happened to your clothes?”

“I had no idea, at the time.”

“You didn’t get arrested?”

“By then I had a bit of a reputation, you might say.”

“And then?”

“I found my car, and my clothes were in my car, so I got dressed then drove to campus and went to class.”

Maynard grinned and held out his snifter once more.

“You win.”

Chapter Text

Across the emptiness you reach me
with this exquisite alchemy.
The language yet unknown upon my tongue
understanding comes slowly but I will learn.

 

Maynard sat on a kitchen chair at the head of his property, which he still hadn’t decided quite what to do with and so it was a scrabble of dirt and rock and cacti, with a stone path leading from the wall bordering the turnout to the front door of the house. Two very large signs flanked the entrance, one declaring NO TRESPASSING and the other, in case whomever it was didn’t get the message, the outline of a human torso marked with bullet holes. He had considered putting up another sign: I am armed and I WILL shoot you, but had been convinced by someone in local law enforcement that it wasn’t a good idea to advertise in advance of defense. He waited for Eric, to hear the sound of his truck laboring as it climbed to his private perch. Miho sat in his lap and he fed her from a bag of doggie treats.

“Girl lemme tell ya, I think I got it bad.”

He then snorted and shook his head as Miho licked his hand. She would always listen to his bullshit and not judge him. One of many reasons he adored her.

Eric had told him they were going to drive around for a while today, visiting different areas he wanted to show him. Insisting that he only thought he knew the Verde Valley but there was a lot more to learn. And he held his tongue, ready to say: Dude, I’ve lived here eight fuckin’ years already, but he knew what Eric was trying to say. There was knowing a place, and knowing the soul of a place. He had to understand the terroir of the region completely.

“I’ll do the work, right? I’ll always do the work. But this is fucking with my head.”

Miho whined softly, sensing a nuance of distress in her master’s voice. Almost as if in echo, another whine could be heard below.

“Well, it’s either the boss or someone who’s gonna see the barrel of my gun,” Maynard muttered, gently placing his dog on the chair and taking up a paintball gun which looked, for all intents and purposes, like an actual assault rifle. Sure enough the other’s dusty Ford Ranger came into view, the driver shooting him the bird.

“Ya gonna point that at me every fuckin’ time?” Eric asked, leaning out the window.

“Well you wouldn’t consider my suggestion of getting a La Cucaracha air horn, so -”

“Fuck off!” This was delivered with a grin.

Maynard laughed. “Alright Glomski let’s hit it. But we have to make a caffeine stop.”

“I gotcha, brother,” Eric replied, holding up a large to-go cup.

“Where have you been all my life?” Maynard asked this in a slightly melodramatic tone as he fit himself and Miho plus a backpack into the passenger’s seat.

“Oh you know, around.”

Maynard wondered how different his life would have been if they had met even a year earlier, imagining seeing the other on the streets of Sedona and having that same unconscious reaction to his physical presence. Or if they had somehow managed to run into each other in California, during Eric’s previous life at David Bruce. But that was all just what if and this...this was what now? But it felt like those two years they had resided in the same area and not met were so much wasted opportunity.

Eric turned the truck around and they traveled down into the valley and the day and it didn’t manner to Maynard what or where, just the occasion was enough.

 

After a tour of a few areas where Eric had made him feel and smell (and even taste, but only once) the soil, places within only a few miles of each other, Maynard had a better sense of how the land was more like a patchwork quilt of characteristics rather than a unified giant expanse of dirt, rocks and vegetation. And all the while his mentor had spoken of the sensations all around them: the keen edge of the wind, the powdery softness of the soil, that super-green watery smell when you cut open the fruit of a prickly pear, which then changes to tart sweetness as soon as the innards were exposed to the air. The way the sun could feel like a weight upon your shoulders, but also how it made things smell, warmth releasing all kinds of aromatics and volatile oils.

“Air isn’t nothing, right? It’s never just some kind of neutral scent. Close your eyes and breathe and center yourself in this moment. Tell me what you smell.”

I can smell you: your sweat, that lemon tang of the shampoo you use, the coffee you’ve been drinking. Your own warmth, your skin...it’s your bacteria, I guess. All you.

But he wasn’t supposed to be smelling that, or not just that. So he tried to shift his focus.

Why is it when I close my eyes all I can see is you?

“I smell minerals, rocks heating up. A garden, maybe? Nearby like someone’s growing some basil or maybe rosemary. Grass that just got cut this morning, just a faint trace of that. Sunshine has a scent, don’t you think?”

He opened his eyes to see Eric looking upward, pensive.

“Heat provokes scent, and thus taste. Because of the way heat makes things smell I think we tend to associate strong sunlight with scent. Like when something burns, we’re smelling the kinetic potential of whatever it is.”

“So we can smell the Sun.”

Eric pushed his sunglasses down from the bridge of his nose, giving him a brilliant blue-eyed Really? look.

Goddamn you’ve got such beautiful eyes.

“Hey, we don’t know, no one’s ever really studied it.”

A chuckle. “Well, not that we know of, anyway. Fair enough.”

Maynard looked over at the truck where Miho hung her front paws on the passenger side open window, small candy-pink tongue fluttering.

“What do you smell, girl, huh? Something yummy?”

She barked, and he nodded with affection. “So speaking of -”

“We’re gonna have a picnic. Did you bring food for her?”

“Always. Doesn’t mean she won’t want ours though.”

“I’d be suspicious of her identity otherwise.”

They grinned; their jokes were strictly for their own amusement, most of the time.

 

They hiked into a canyon upon a track which began alongside Oak Creek, just beyond the property Eric was in the process of purchasing for his winery. The sound of the babbling creek lulled Maynard as he walked behind the other, Miho riding along in the backpack. The day was now fully hot and bright, but a breeze coming from the north lent a hint of coolness as it moved down from the mountains and across the creek. The air was thick with the scents of sage and ponderosa pine, the freshness of the water and the dry dust they raised as they walked the path. Grasses which grew on the banks and the stones all around. After a time they stopped at a spot which featured a long flat section of rock, a perfect surface for a repast. Bread and cheese and sausage and pickled vegetables and a selection of apples were all produced for their enjoyment.

“The inspirational apple,” Maynard quipped, holding one aloft. He was referring to Eric’s origin story regarding his decision to become a winemaker, even as he had been already established in the career he was educated to pursue: riparian restoration. A glass of wine made from apples Eric had harvested enchanted him and led to an epiphany regarding the type of artistry he fell in love with. And Maynard appreciated parallels with his own path, believing he was meant for something completely different than what he eventually fell into. He often wondered if that was the root of his ambivalence for what he called his “night job” - if only people didn’t attempt to trap him in that identity forever. It was only ever meant to be a series of disguises and skins shed, a panoply of myths and masks.

“Near enough. Ever eaten a wild apple, just finding a tree out in the middle of nowhere?”

“Sure. In high school when I trained for track we used to run for miles through the farmland all around the town. And there was this one orchard that had gone...well, not fallow, but it wasn’t tended. The trees were still bearing fruit and so in the fall we would go that way and I’d pick up the apples that had fallen and we’d eat the ones that weren’t too badly bruised or worm-ridden."

“Those are the best apples, flavor-wise. A window into that particular world.”

Maynard bit into one and it most definitely didn’t taste generic, it was primarily tart with just the slightest hint of sweetness. The flavor complemented the other foods, bringing them into focus. Eric opened a bottle of wine contained in an insulating sleeve and held it out.

“We’re drinking from the bottle like philistines? Really?

“We’re drinking from the bottle like two friends on a picnic and it’s going to taste fucking amazing.”

Maynard smiled and took the bottle. A long drink told him that much was true: cold, refreshing, crisp, with equal amounts of fruitiness and acidity. He made an Ahh! sound after swallowing and was gratified by the smile of the man who had blended it.

“You, my friend, can crush some fucking grapes.”

“Why thank you. And you will too, my friend. Let’s drink to your future wine.”

“And let’s drink to right now. Whaddya say, girl, hmm?” Miho barked from her usual seat in his lap and Maynard fed her a piece of sausage.

“To Miho, the luckiest dog in Jerome.”

Maynard laughed. “And to me, the guy she chooses to hang out with.”

Eric passed the bottle and Maynard took another swallow. Eric pulled out a bottle of water for himself.

“Just the one?”

“Two, but I think we should save the other one for when we get back to your place with some Concho’s.”

“I’ll fuckin’ drink to that!”

Privilege allowed him to demand this man’s time and cumulative wisdom, but the other had never acted as though they were anything but fast friends and potential peers.

And that’s really why I’ve got it bad, Maynard thought.

Eric stretched out on the rock, arms and legs spread out, and sighed deeply.

“Oh Lifegiver, thank you for your holy fire which bestows divine alchemy upon a humble grape.”

“Ah...but not so humble, as you’ve endlessly lectured me.”

“Are you contesting that you need an education?”

“Never.” Eric had his eyes closed and Maynard tried not to stare too hard, to give him the sense that he was being stared at. But he drank in the sight, deeper than the wine they had shared.

 

Maynard wasn’t certain when he had begun to look at Danny differently. For years they had been almost like roommates, if not actually sharing close quarters. And so their friendship was a matter of proximity but also of empathy. They understood each other almost effortlessly from the first time they had an actual conversation.

But time and circumstance and location will eventually distort an existing situation.

Once they were fully subject to the scrutiny of the outside world, this exposure placed barriers between them all, even as they continued to relate to each other as they always had. That sense of I knew you when you were nobody and had nothing, and you’re still that guy. It wasn’t true, of course, but the ways in which it was no longer true were myriad and complex.

They’d had a gang of people who came to every local gig: mostly their friends but also their self-appointed groupies, friends of friends, co-workers, and whoever else might have heard the buzz about them and wanted to check it out. But about halfway into their first actual tour and Maynard began to notice others amassing. Adam wanted to avoid any potential admirers and did so by acting dumb about the usual queries, perversely so because he was as dedicated to his craft as anyone. Sadly there were not many who took notice of Paul, and Maynard had the ability to make himself invisible after a fashion if he wanted to be (which he did, most of the time). But wherever they might be, he’d notice people around Danny, and they were all deeply admiring, in various ways (or perhaps the same way, just expressed differently). And his first reaction to this phenomenon was What?! But then the Danny who came onstage was entirely different than the Danny who had imbibed half a case of beer all by himself the night before and debated points of ufology with semi-drunken gravitas. This man was wholly self-assured as regards his place in the band, his place on any stage, the reason why there was always a crowd around him. This man had only been waiting - as the song goes - for his moment to arrive.

It didn’t make him insufferable, but it did bring Maynard’s own self-doubt into sharper relief. He didn’t know that man who sat behind the kit, he only thought he did.

It could be exciting, forming an entirely different relationship with a stranger, and Maynard tried to convince himself of this idea, but instead it only nagged him with an insecurity which felt like poison in his veins.

Who do you think you are? he had wanted to snap, so so many times. And he knew the answer would be: Who I’ve always been, even if you were only seeing what you wanted to see.

Chapter Text

How it shines so brightly
this exquisite alchemy.
Roots descending deep below
uncovering the treasure, the meaning, the stone.

 

“How much do you know about alchemy?”

Eric smirked as he examined a cluster for bunch rot. “You are an esoteric motherfucker for sure. Did you ever meet Sean Thackrey?”

“I told you, I don’t know any winemakers in California.”

“You know me.”

“Yeah but you’re late of California. You move here, immediately shed all that bullshit.”

“Didn’t have it to begin with, friend.”

They moved down the row, Maynard impressed that Eric could do these two things at once, each requiring a particularly lithesome mindset.

“So?”

“I know enough about the history, I suppose, if not so much about the philosophy.”

“It’s a discipline, I think that’s maybe what people tend to misunderstand.”

Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem,” Eric recited. “The purification process referring to the self, I presume?”

“Do you actually speak Latin?” Maynard blurted out, amazed yet again. And he had already told himself to stop being dumbfounded at everything uncovered in the course of the mutual discovery of their personalities.

Eric shrugged, squinting at another cluster, carefully looking among all the grapes. “Just enough to be dangerous. You have to have a fair knowledge of botany when you major in Ecology. So -”

“Yeah that’s part of it, certainly. But also facing the Void, contemplating annihilation.”

“Okay sure, I get that alchemy is a spiritual process more than a chemical one.”

“No, you actually don’t. It’s both. We’re all chemicals, but we strive for something more. We can’t undertake it, though, without those covalent bonds which define our existence.”

Eric turned to him, smiling. “Wow, that’s so apt when you think about it. We think of chemistry in a few different ways, but usually not as something which contains an inherent duality.”

Maynard smiled in turn, but he understood he was being taught a lesson in humility.

He didn’t try to defend himself, just acknowledged your insight. True brilliance doesn’t try to beat everyone else over the head with itself.

“That’s what I want to accomplish with what I do, what we do. The grape is the hidden stone.”

“And so how do we approach the spiritual side of it?”

“With our intentions. This isn’t a process, it’s a journey.”

“Absolutely. And speaking of the Void, let’s talk about how to keep these grapes from meeting an early demise, eh?”

Maynard looked at the ground, momentarily chagrined. But the way in which Eric attempted to keep him grounded in the realities of winegrowing was gentle, he wasn’t the kind of teacher who made you feel stupid for tangents or weird questions. If anything he was as much an everything-at-once kind of thinker as Maynard was, if perhaps rather more organized about it. He made a bow of obeisance and they continued their holy work.

 

Another field expedition, this time leaving before sunrise to visit the Chiricahua Mountains and the fabled Colibri vineyard. Everyone who made wine in Arizona considered it the very best site, even as it was mostly overgrown and could vary wildly in terms of how each varietal turned out from harvest to harvest. The land embodied a certain awestruck attitude which could only be experienced.

“Colibri is the terroir,” Eric had told him as they drove South, the horizon swelling with false dawn. “If I could get even a fraction of those kind of results from one of my harvests? That is the fuckin’ dream for sure.”

“Why don’t other people plant grapes in that area then?”

“People have tried. But that area is very fickle. I think it was only ever meant for one vineyard to be there.”

It all felt very mysterious, but Maynard’s cynicism was quickly dismantled once they reached the destination and Eric lead him down the road, past the house and fruit trees surrounding it, onto the rows of vines - some well-kept, others tangled and wild. It was the inherent magnetism of the place, he thought, as they moved beneath the sun, surrounded by the rugged slopes of the Chiricahuas. Also the utter stillness of its’ remote location, the wind a constant singing against their ears but little else.

They were completely alone, in a way they’d never been alone before in the few months of their acquaintance. Maynard closed his eyes against the sun for a moment to center himself, because the thought was overwhelming his emotions, he wanted to giggle at his giddy contemplation.

He was brought out of it by the feel of Eric’s hand on his shoulder, squeezing slow and gentle. He opened his eyes and looked over at his mentor.

“Look,” Eric whispered, pointing his chin.

Maynard slowly turned his head to witness a charm of hummingbirds - more than he had ever seen in his life, to be sure - darting, swooping and hovering around several flowering cacti. They made tiny sounds of pique as they fiercely battled for dominance over the blooms. He was stunned, watching the iridescent feathers glimmer in the sunlight, the blur of their wings.

Magic like this, it must happen every day here.

But more than this enchanted sight, he was wholly aware of the weight of that touch, each of Eric’s fingers gripping his shoulder, the press of his fingertips. Maynard forgot to breathe until the world wavered in his sight and he inhaled with a soft ahh. The hand remained, he could feel the other breathing on the back of his neck. Neither of them wanted to move, to disturb this amazing feat of avian acrobatics.

He lost track of time, and he didn’t care. But he was struggling to give in to the experience.

It’s not giving in, he argued with himself. It’s surrendering to a force you know is going to subsume you anyway. You can’t stop it, now that you know what you will do. This place is trying to heal you, and he is -

What, then? What is he doing to me?

He doesn’t demand obedience, he asks for collaboration.
He doesn’t demand respect, he asks for empathy.
He doesn’t demand worship, he asks for trust.

The wind kicked up, and it must have blown their scent over to the birds, departing en masse as quickly as they had appeared.

“I am utterly humbled,” Maynard croaked, his mouth gone dry in wonder. The hand finally left his shoulder and he immediately mourned the absence.

“And that is the lesson for today,” Eric said quietly, only slightly above the whisper he had voiced earlier.

They didn’t talk after that. This place rendered such things entirely unnecessary.