What I Did for Love
I did this for you, my pie friends:
I’ve been calling my favorite pick-your-own orchard since the beginning of June. Today was the first day of sour cherry season. So I called Joan.
As is our habit of the last two years, Joan and I conspired to be there first thing in the morning to pick before it got too hot. But also to treat ourselves to the farmstand cider donuts and a cup of coffee before heading up the hill.
After donuts we went to get picking buckets. “We’re here for the red sour cherries,” I chirped.
“Those trees there.” He pointed to the three trees in the drive way.
“Wha-what? What about up the hill, aren’t those cherries ready yet?”
“No reds up there. We’re lucky to have any cherries this year. We had a bad March. We’re lucky for any fruit at all.”
“What about the black sours?” I whined.
He smiled and shook his head, “There won’t be any left pretty soon.” The Russians were already up the hill.
I prefer the delicacy of the red sours anyway and we had them to ourselves. Right now. All three trees.
Joan took the tree higher on the sloped median between the drive ways. I took another.
Friends, I had all these plans for this year. I was going to shoot a video of the cherry trees. It was going to be gorgeous. All that bounty. Trees laden with fruit. Bright red cherries swaying and glistening as I climbed through a tree. Boughs bent from their red bevy. As soon as I approached the tree, art was thrown aside for necessity. No time for dallying. It was slim pickings.
After picking what I could reach from the ground — and there was not much, I checked out the tall, scary, chicken-shit-covered wooden ladder that someone had tipped against the tree. I wiggled the ladder for better footing, then up I went. Three rungs up I stripped every branch and twig in reach of fruit. Then up again. And strip again. The ladder was 15 ft tall. I fought for every handful.
We dumped our partial buckets very once and a bit into a bucket under a tree to guard against spilling our full buckets from our ladders. Pretty soon one bucket was full.
I was way inside my tree when I heard Joan telling a woman with a Russian accent about the black sour cherries up the hill.
A few minutes later, a Brooklyn-y couple came by to pick the low hanging fruit from my tree. We chatted about jam. When I came down the ladder to dump my bucket, I couldn’t find our full bucket. I yelled over to Joan. We searched all over. She said it first though we were both thinking it. “Somebody stole our bucket of cherries!”
“That’s messed up,” said Mr. Brooklyn.
“I’m going to the stand to report it!” Said Joan. Neither of us could say it out loud, but we were both thinking it.
That red-haired bitch.
I went up the ladder again. Eventually the Brooklyn-y couple left but not before saying, “That’s not right,” again.
Joan returned after a bit with another empty bucket shaking her head. She had reported the theft to the farmer trying to keep down her full head of steam. He smiled and told her one of the groundsmen had picked it up because it looked unattended. “You can’t just leave your fruit sitting around; some one will steal it,” he told her. Our stolen bucket was there when we were ready to check out.
I was feeling kind of bad about our mistaken assumption when the next interlopers came by. A young Russian couple with a five year old child. I tried Joan’s trick of sending them up the hill for the black cherries. But they insisted on keeping the whiny brat down below my ladder. Then another man came. The grandfather maybe. And they all went away for awhile.
I began wrestling the 15 foot ladder into another position. It was okay but scary. I picked what I could. then got another tripod shaped ladder. The hill sloped steeply. There was not safe footing. (Have I told you before what it’s like to position a 15 foot ladder when you are only 5 foot 1 inches? Okay then I won’t tell you again.) I was sweaty and afraid I’d hurt my back or fall off or lord knows. This was the moment the entire multi-generation Russian family swarmed my tree. Hoping, I think, that I might fall off the ladder so they might have at the top of the tree themselves.
In retrospect, I realize that if I had been a man I would have probably been beaten up. Lucky for me it is too embarrassing for two stalky men to beat up a petite, middle-aged, Asian woman. It just isn’t done. No matter how much your wives egg you on.
Finally, they realized I wasn’t going to fall off the ladder so they moved on. Cussing under their breath. (Joan is blonde and at least 5 inches taller than either man. They didn’t even start with her.)
I finished picking the top of my tree a couple minutes later. Joan and I agreed to call it a day. Two hours of picking. 27 lbs of cherries. That’s approximately 16 pies.
And no international incident. This year.