CLEARED BY CANADIAN CENSORS
CRESTON, British Columbia. I’ll start where I last left off.
Rising at 5 a.m., I realized I’d spent the night on someone’s front lawn. Luckily they weren’t early risers, and I packed up and began beating my way down to find work at an orchard picking fruit.
Several orchards later, I was taken on a crew to pick cherries for the Creston Valley cherry harvest. I was shown into the camp, a motley assortment of tents and beaten up campers with Quebec license plates.
I was amazed to learn that each year, Quebec’ers travel 5,000 kilometers to pick fruit in British Columbia.
“In the US, most picking is done my migrants,” I commented to a picker from Montreal.
“We are migrants,” he deadpanned.
“I mean from, ya know, another country,” I pressed, lamely, realizing the trap I had walked into.
“And Quebec is not a country?”
“I’m not getting into that one,” I retreated.
Last year had been a bumper crop for cherries, with pickers making more than $200 a day. This year was a disappointing crop — I’ve been lucky to make $70 in a day, I was told.
But it’s not bad work. You start at 5 a.m. and are ordered to quit by noon, when the sun makes the cherries plump and ripe, and easy to damage when picking.
The first day was spent “cleaning”; picking the rotten ones out of some trees. There would be no work the next day, we were told.
I was invited on a road trip to a hot springs, several hours to the north. Traveling in convoy, our car was loaded down with three young Quebec girls and a guy from Alberta. It was a long trip and was beginning to get dark by the time we made the turnoff onto the gravel road.
It was at this point that I learned that our directions were less than precise.
“My buddy said it was 6 clicks down,” our Albertan guide said. “But I keep thinking 8 clicks … let’s try this one,” as we’d weave around on another narrowing forest service road.
Soon we amongst fallen trees and our Nissan Sentra couldn’t go any further. The others in the convoy began to grumble. We’d driven four hours to get here and knew we were within spitting distance of the hot springs.
Given the situation, what was our plucky French Canadians’ answer? Just give up.
Never do I feel so Anglo-Saxon as when in the company of Gauls. The Albertan and I tried to reason with them, that we could trudge a little further, but we were met with non-committal shrugs. It was their car, so we just kept quiet.
“I just want to make some fire and drink some beer,” one Quebecer said. We complied. And the next morning limped back to Creston in disgrace.
Back on the farm we were put to work in the orchards. Aside from our hands getting caked with grey pesticides powder on the fruit and the occasional mosquito onslaught, picking cherries is actually quite pleasant.
We were told that Monday was a provincial holiday. What luck! I would be in British Columbia on B.C. Day. What revelry would ensue, I imagined, as I went into town the day before to prepare.
In the liquour store I asked the clerk what to expect.
“So there’ll be a town parade?” I asked.
“Uh … no.”
“Y’all get drunk and shoot fireworks at each other?”
“Big town barbecue and loud music?”
So what exactly happens on BC Day?
“Well, the government liquour store is closed. And the banks, I think. But the supermarkets should be open,” she said.
BC Day for us pickers meant no internet (public library) and no hot showers (town recreation centre).
The pickers’ camp was a cluster of about 25 people from Quebec, Alberta, BC, and California. We had fires and guitars and singing. Lotsa’ dope smoking and drinking, all within spitting distance of the owner, and affable guy who I learned was a former leader of a well-known international church known for its conservative social values.
Yet his tolerance for the moral turpitude of the pickers’ camp was amazing. I noticed that during a staff meeting he spoke with a resonated whiskey bottle sitting next to him. Our blasphemies never seemed to faze him, if anything he always looked faintly amused.
In fact, I saw him say to his foreman last night, “What’s wrong, stoned again?”
“No boss, now I be drinking,” the foreman responded good-naturedly.
A lot of tolerance for a guy whose religion doesn’t permit coffee.
Last night, as we sat by the fire listening to the Quebecers shout old French Canadian songs, hands clapping, feet stomping, and whistling, I remarked to the Albertan how lively the young people were.
“Yeah, they’re probably the most singy-dancey people on the planet,” he smirked. “They’re all want-to-be circus performers, it’s great.”
So tomorrow, after an honest day’s work, the plan is to board a freight bound for city of Cranbrook. The locals here tell me it’s a great town to score crack in, and not much else. So I hope there’ll be another train waiting for me to take me up north. Because, you see, I’m Alberta-bound.