Maple Trees Become Orchards

The second part of a two part article about a long Canadian roadtrip.

We piled up in the car one dark foggy night. We took along our French friend and the really short yet convincing man who had managed to sweet-talk my very impressionable boyfriend into going to spend the summer waking up at 5 in the morning to pick fruit. That wasn’t the motivation factor. The selling point was the money you were meant to make if you had magic fingers that could pick cherries without crushing them, breaking the stem, or more importantly the bud, all that at overwhelming speed. The road was lined with deer. In the pitch-blackness, thousands of eyes sparkled like a starry night. Sometimes one would lazily cross over.

We started the drive neatly with bags on our laps. We finished it with feet in each other’s faces as we tried to stretch out our numb limbs after hours of driving. Early the next morning, we reached the Okanagan valley.

He warned us to watch out for black widow spiders in the toilets and pointed at a wooden panel welcoming us into the camping grounds; the rules.

Loose Bay. The campground they opened when the people of little town Oliver got tired of seeing punks squatting in parks during picking season. To make it comfortable and easily accessible for our fellow hitchhikers they dropped the campsite on top of a ridiculously steep hill where everything was dirt and dry. It gave you asthma just thinking of it.

When we drove in, the lovely mustached groundkeeper came to greet us and demand his 5$ per person, per night. He warned us to watch out for black widow spiders in the toilets and pointed at a wooden panel welcoming us into the camping grounds; the rules. Amongst them; no fighting and dogs on leash.  None of them were respected. Dogs were roaming around freely, looking for scraps of food and drunkards were fighting every other night.

Loose Bay had no rules. But it did have its perks. You had unlimited free wood and a dollar got you 7 minutes of hot water in the shower building that was so eaten up by mold you were scared of undressing. Luxury! Mostly, you found scum in Loose Bay. Kids dressed up in leather and chains with blue hair and too many facial piercings and trying to look intimidating.  Most of them didn’t have that dollar for the showers.

We planned to stay for one night, we stayed for two months.

We went through quite a few different jobs while waiting for the cherry season to start. They went from weeding fields to planting vines. Our days at the vineyard were the best. The owners would make sure to give us the unfinished bottles of wine that had been opened for wine tasting that day. One of them, a woman, believed in Gaia the mother earth. She spoke of the importance of opening ones mind. She spoke of reincarnation. Her words rang with wisdom to my willing ears. She didn’t care for the image of modern women which also means she didn’t care for shaving. However, she believed in the purity of the soul and in LSD. It opened her third eye, she said, and let her see. See what exactly? I never knew.

Every night we’d watch the same guy doing the rounds of empty beer cans and transferring the last drops into his own empty can making a new full beer.

Once every year, they threw their own version of the full moon party. It took place some hours out of town, over a hill and lots of dirt road. After some swearing and a flat tire, you would reach a small opening through the trees, which is where you parked the car and started walking. Echoes of electronic music would start drifting towards you. A strange sound in such a remote place. Finally you’d come upon a huge screen of bright floating colors. Instantly, you were swept up in a pulsating crowd. Sometimes, you’d wander away and dance amongst the trees until someone walked by you and pulled you toward the dancers again.

Our jobs only ever lasted a few weeks. We spent our days going around the orchards asking for work with many promises but no luck. Our evenings we spent in Loose Bay playing poker, drinking around the fire and singing loudly. Every night we’d watch the same guy doing the rounds of empty beer cans and transferring the last drops into his own empty can making a new full beer. We left a mess each night and would wake to find a clean site. Some more motivated ones made a small fortune that summer taking empty cans and bottles back to the shop. Loose Bay was a gold mine.

The cherry season was late. Running out of ideas to keep busy, we decided to cross the border into the States and go for a drive.

At border control, the custom officer didn’t take a second look at us. We got pulled aside and searched. Apparently US immigration isn’t big on having unwashed pickers come into the country. They found a notebook with French words translated into English – very suspicious stuff. Clearly, fruits and colors were too innocent to be anything else than secret code. When they found a hand drawn map, they officially took us into questioning. I was designated as spokesperson as I was the only one who spoke English. The officer was very interested in the map. When I realized he thought the map was a rendez-vous point for some illegal exchange, I giggled. He didn’t look at that kindly and started his questioning again. All this was very serious business.

It was a clear message. It gave no place to ambiguity. Obviously, we didn’t take notice.

The map was really one that had been drawn by my old boss. I was meant to pick up my check at his office. At some point I must have been convincing enough because he looked at me with a trusting expression. He believed me. He proceeded to take out a map of the region and circled all the fast food restaurants nearby and the WalMart which, judging by his happy expression, was a must in the area. Stereotypes.

We took to crossing the border pretty often to do our shopping and laundry. Normally, we kept to the same route but for this one time when we decided to take a shortcut through the dirt roads. We thought we’d come back out on the highway eventually. This was a wrong assumption. We came upon a panel measuring a few meters across. It read something like:

-“Stop. County road ends here. If you continue you will be prosecuted”.

It was a clear message. It gave no place to ambiguity. Obviously, we didn’t take notice.

There was a wooden cabin to our left. It looked like it came out of a western movie. I almost expected to see a white-haired man rocking on his chair, a double barrel gun in his hand, spitting out dark tobacco.

The road became gravel. About 10 meters further there was a second panel that informed us that we had indeed trespassed and would indeed be prosecuted. That’s when a rusted orange pickup and a black one made their entrance. One pulled up behind us, one in front. There was a wooden cabin to our left. It looked like it came out of a western movie. I almost expected to see a white-haired man rocking on his chair, a double barrel gun in his hand, spitting out dark tobacco. Instead, a man came by my window and leaned in. Toothpick and cowboy hat. Bad teeth. I confused my facial features and proceeded to tell him in my most innocent voice that we were lost. He replied that the road stopped here even though we could see it stretching in the distance. I smiled sweetly and apologized. I was also grabbing my driver’s arm in a death grip hoping to convey my thoughts to him.

They would have sounded like:

– “We’re gonna die we’re gonna we’re gonna die”. He thought so too.

We made our way back. The pickups didn’t pull away until we were out of sight. We never found out what went on on that bit of road.  We bought a bottle of Jack Daniels and crossed back safely into Canada.

I felt the trip was coming to an end. Not because of homesickness but because my relationship was coming to an end and it seemed right that all would end at the same time. We separated not long after. Three months later, I was back on the road.

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