We find ourselves at the beach in Oyama on a self-assigned day off, having keenly felt the orchard cabin-fever. “Do you want to go to the creek?” No. We climb onto the roof of picker’s shack using an orchard ladder until the harvest manager comes by making the universal hand motion for “What the fuck are you doing? Get down from there right now!” We are rangy and listless all at once. A departing picker leaves us his car on the condition that we scrap it for him when we leave. The brakes are iffy at best and the engine produces unsettling noises and smells that we pretend to take no notice of. He signs a note authorizing us to scrap it and we take a picture of the note with his ID, then with us, giving the thumbs up. What can go wrong? Casting off all extraneous belongings at the end of the season, another picker leaves us his inflatable boat. Ready, steady, go.
At the grill on the corner of the causeway, they loan us an air compressor. Ragged and ridiculous, we sit on the corner with our bottle of Baby Duck and cases of beer and blow up our boat. The day is spent floating around Kalamalka Lake, sometimes three to a boat, toasting the imminent end of the season, summer, friendship, Oyama, all the feel good moments of the day. When we arrive back at the orchard, the Australians are in the picker’s shack playing loud EDM and dancing, much like they seem to do every night. “Australians are the same everywhere,” somebody says. “It was like this in Kuzco, too.” Frenchie is there shaking his booty (what’s his story, anyway? How does a 40 year old man end up amidst the twenty year old back packer crowd?) and we throw ourselves into the fray. Most of the orchard has to work the following morning. Some of us are finished with injuries and illness and other commitments that the long running season conflict with. The pickers camped nearby must be displeased with the insistent bass and shouting. We don’t notice. We are too busy continuing to climb into the rafters or testing the strength of the shelves in the kitchen by clambering up onto them and lying lengthwise. A continuing theme of the season, we end up in the rafters of the row of toilets/shower stalls. My kitchen dance party a few nights prior was better. I like the feeling of making things happen, the impromptu nature of dancing to Lords of Acid in the middle of the filthy kitchen, the failed experiment in communal living.
Hungover and sleep deprived, we lie in my tent in the morning and groan. Those still picking depart at five a.m, gamely and grimly carting their ladders with them. The home stretch. We have bailed, hard. We make half hearted attempts at cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry before deciding it our best contribution is to buy snacks for the night. Little Kingdom, our haven at the bottom of the hill, the fluorescent lit and overpriced grocery store. Fresh baked cookies and samosas and turnovers (though never the cherry flavor, Jesus Christ, no more cherries) lure us down. This is the difference between treeplant and cherries- the proximity to civilization, the cell service, the Wi-Fi. Every Thursday and Sunday we can bundle into cars and go to the bar for two dollar wings, working our way through the menu. We go to brunch buffets and the Superstore and movies and beaches, go to waterfalls and provincial parks and cliff jumping.
We spend the day filling three hundred water balloons and filling cherry totes with them, then hiding them in the vestibule of my tent. A water balloon fight was the highlight of my birthday, a mushroom trip & lying naked in the mountain cold creek, reciting ‘Lady of Shallot’ in my head & having a profound revelation of ‘You can either watch, or you can be a part of it.’
We stand, arms crossed, observing them play beer pong. We are pensive and lack luster. It is the last night of the cherry harvest, and all who remain are tree-planters- our company, and theirs. “They are better than us in every single way,” we lament. The obvious- they work for a better company. A British Columbia company, not an Ontario shambles. “I’m over the helicopters,” one says. Their company t-shirts are better. They have better haircuts, are cleaner, better dressed, drive nicer cars. This would all be ok, but now they have beaten us at a drinking game and we are reevaluating our stance. All we have is how hard we party. “I hate them,” I whisper to my companion. “I want nothing to do with this.” And I try to go to bed, but I hear the shouts of a truth or dare game starting in the kitchen and the siren lure of “We need two more bottles of olive oil!” draws me back in just in time to see a naked slip and slide through several pounds of cherries on the poured concrete floor.
One of our number sits cross-eyed and drunk at a picnic table with one of the opposition. She is earnestly imploring him, “All we have is how hard we party- can’t we at least have that? Let us have that!” He, kitted out in a bad Hallowee’en wig and lipstick kisses on his cheeks, nods amiably and cheers! her outstretched can, watches her chug it. They are nicer than us, too. I don’t know if it is because we feel the need to redeem ourselves or because we are frustrated or because it is the end of the season and we are returning to relative normalcy in the coming days, or because we are, as usual, a shitshow drunk gang of rag-tag misfits and shitdisturbers, but the party gets dialed up a notch. We climb onto the roof of Pickers Shack, a popular past time. On the far side of the roof, in the darkness, some remain calm. They watch the stars and cuddle and pick out constellations- the Milky Way is visible. On the near side, a food fight breaks out- eggs and Freezies are being viciously whipped to and fro. In the gravel walkway between the shack and the kitchen, an assortment of air mattresses and camp pads left behind by departing pickers forms an impromptu chill area.
Hive mind takes over and we all end up in the washroom. We instigate one of my favorite games- How Many People Can We Fit in a Bathroom Stall? Several of us cram in, and a few of the other camp. We are standing on the toilet tank, on the seat, balancing akimbo on the toilet paper dispenser. I have no idea how we close the door. We jokingly designate one corner the “Spit and Poop” corner, but when one of our number has to pee, we reconfigure so that they can, in fact, use the toilet bowl. As per usual, many begin climbing into the rafters that stretch over the row of toilets and showers and disperse. Somebody is throwing sodden paper towels over the wall at us and we depart for a new adventure. The toilet paper dispenser dangles from the wall where it broke off under somebody’s weight and up in the rafters, the 2×4’s that the lights are bolted to seem to be coming loose as well.
We ensure our job security outside, ripping vast and gleeful handfuls of paper towel from the dispensers and dropping them on the floor. Somebody pours laundry soap and fabric softener all over the floor and we dance around the bathroom. Somebody covers the mess in more paper towel. One of our number grabs the fire extinguisher from the kitchen and sets it off, covering the kitchen and the bathrooms in a fine spray of gray powder. I bring John into the bathroom and in a moment that ended up being rather touching, we wash each other’s feet clean of the olive oil and smashed cherries and fire extinguisher refuse. “You’re kinda Jesus-y right now,” he says. Observing the utter destruction of every area of camp, he asks, “Is there nothing beautiful left? Can you take me somewhere beautiful?” I am ill equipped to handle this request, and frankly, am enjoying the unabashed destruction. We walk around and observe the chaos. “I’m sorry,” I tell him. Before I can take him somewhere beautiful, if I were even capable, I am sucked into a whirlwind of my own making. Another game of sardines, this time in the shower.
Group showers have been a party comedown adventure, in small number. Eight of us is a new thing. One of the competition’s numbers joins us. Others clamber over the rafters, throwing refuse into the shower with us. Noodles, soggy paper towels, fake coils of ivy, branches of trees that have been ripped violently away. Our clothes become a sodden pile on the floor. I do laundry later, wearing a pair of men’s boxers pilfered from the pile of abandoned clothing in the common laundry area. When we rejoin in the kitchen, the de-facto leader of the other planters is busily mopping up the olive oil, still looking pristine and put together. Her boyfriend is busy making a perfect omelette, complete with sharp cheese. “Better,” we grumble, looking around at ourselves. We are ragged and half naked, wet hair plastered to our heads, drunk and belligerent. We check out destructive impulses in their presences. How do they still look so fucking good?