It’s always when thing are just veering into dangerous territory when the phone rings and a solution presents itself. “Something will come up,” I reassure myself about my job prospects as Wanda sits in the mechanic’s garage in Nanaimo, becoming a bit of a money pit mechanically. I knew this would be somewhat problematic when I bought her but the former owner seems not to have bothered to do any work whatsoever to the poor old van mechanically, or even to have bothered with routine maintenance outside of an oil change. Sure enough as I’m brooding another day away at a library or Tim Horton’s the phone rings with a friend on the other end asking me if I want a job picking apples in Kelowna and giving me a number to call. “He might only have four or five days of work for you,” she says, but that’s ok. In seasonal work and short contracts you take what you can get while you can get it and look for something better while you’re at least making a little bit of cash. Sometimes I plant trees, cook, ride horses and write, and now, sometimes I pick apples. Wanda is revived and we scurry down to the ferry dock hoping to make the next sailing.
In line for the ferry, I run into a friend of a friend from Quebec and in ‘not the strangest’ small world scenario this summer, he too, is heading to the same orchard in Kelowna for work. In March we cycled down Sainte Catherine in the frigid drizzle of a Montreal winter, now, we weather the temperate deluge of the coastal rainstorm. After a drive through the mountains at night in the rain that can only be described as ‘butt puckering’ I sleep a fitful night in my van with the ‘day before new things’ anxiety. We meet the owner of the orchard the next morning and strap on the familiar fruit harnesses paired with the new- large canvas bags that open at the bottom and close by folding over and knotting into a slotted holder so that it can be adjusted at different levels and emptied carefully into a large bin so that the fruit isn’t bruised and ruined. Settling into the rhythm of apple picking is fairly easy after a few seasons of cherries. The trees are smaller and easier to pick, and color picking based on ripeness of fruit is no problem after the hellish blocks of Rainier cherries laid out on tarps and treacherous ground.
On Scenic Road the view is, indeed, Scenic, and I settle into a kind of quiet, giddy joy, looking out at the panoramic view of the valley. It is good to be ‘home’, to have a quiet place to park for a few nights, a shower, electricity, low-key, quiet work. The ubiquitous Mexican orchard worker is present here, too, even in the tiny family farm with two full time employees and very few pickers. He points at me the day we work together after the rain and says “You very good worker!” and I blush fiercely and return “Feliz cumpleaños!” in my bad Spanish, knowing it is his birthday, although he has kept it quiet. We work in amicable silence, moving down the rows in well-paced tandem. When the work comes to a temporary standstill at the one orchard we are referred to another just down the road and are allowed to continue camping out at the first with the great valley views and the nice dog and the horses across the street. “Buenas noches,” I call out softly in the evening rain, and R returns a “Good night!”, not correcting me that “Buenas tardes” would be more correct. We plunder the free cantaloupes set out in a wheelbarrow by the farmer across the street and feast on the warm orange flesh.
It rains more, a torrential down pouring overnight. I have not seen this much rain in the Okanagan before. At dessert like Cholla Hills when it rains the helicopters come out full force, turning the early morning into a scene from Apocalypse Now. The valuable cherries can’t be wet and then dry in the sun or the skin will split and the fruit will be ruined, so a fleet of helicopters is deployed to hover over the trees and shake off the water that threatens the fruit. In the haze of party madness the over stimulation of rain storm and hail and whirlwind helicopters is confusing at best. We huddle in the washrooms at Cholla, making our sandwiches on top of the dryers and camping out in the stalls with bongs and beers and dry clothes fresh from the dryer. No helicopters, here, just cool mornings where the fog obscures the valley view and our fingers cramp in the cold.
Wanda broke down again today- the brakes, today. I’m not even stressed out anymore. Zen has taken over, as life proves, over and over again, things always seem to work out. I’m immensely privileged in the way I am able to live. The mechanics are very understanding of my need to come in and get my tent and sleeping bag and supplies, since Wanda is my vehicle, but also my house. They see a lot of fruit pickers and transient workers come through and are kind and curious. While I only grabbed cheddar rice cakes and bread and Kraft Singles for grilled cheese, I’m indulging- I have access to power to charge my laptop and Wi-Fi signal so I’m listening to the Elon Musk episode of the Joe Rogan Experience and pretending I don’t live in a tent/van/orchard/campground/residential neighborhood after dark.
From a rainy tent in a Kelowna apple orchard
I’m scared of heights, why do I keep doing this?
Better days with Wanda