Waiting for the Cherries to Ripen in the Okanagan Valley: a Sketch

They come to the Okanagan Valley from Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Spain, Australia, parts of Canada, but mostly Quebec—young, flush-faced, long-haired, tattooed and pierced, big groups traveling in vans, jalopy sedans, fixed up campers with peace signs, mushrooms and penises drawn in window dust, and many more hitchhiking alone or in pairs with huge bags strapped to their backs like beetles walking upright, cardboard signs tucked in the side of their bags that read:  “Somewhere,” “South,” or “Oliver,” which is the name of the town where Loose Bay Campground is located and for $5 a night per head you get a space to camp, showers, somewhere to toss your garbage, and free wood when the fire warnings aren’t in effect, which during the cherry picking season is pretty much never.

They gather at Loose Bay in June and July, a mix of ages and nationalities, Keysey's kids and Kerouac's cousins, rucksack lugging hippy punks with Mad-Max meets acid-trip outfits packed into school buses, middle-aged men in campers smoking pipes around a fire and rattling off about the gold-standard when they catch you alone, a group of Argentinian girls with pierced noises, guitars, hand-rolled cigarettes and other shit you might buy in a market sitting around a picnic table smoking ganja, a young French couple enjoying a glass of wine in front of their camper, an old fisherman from Ontario telling stories to a friend he sees once a year, groups of Mexicans and French Canadians in their 20’s drinking cider and beer around tents, cars, campers,  and buses , fiery and wide-eyed, burning for adventure, the open road, “freedom,” or just a fair shot at some cash money—everyone waiting for the cherries to ripen.

And until they do, our traveling pickers skateboard and lounge in parks, pass wine and cider with new friends, jam on guitars and buckets with sloppy hair falling down under wide-brimmed farmer hats, usually drink too much, smoke pot like sacrament, take acid, shrooms, MDMA at raves in the mountains, eat canned tuna, salmon, pasta, ramen, and sometimes fall off (too many missed meals and showers), tip-toe the line between traveler, backpacker, migrant worker, transient, nomad, bum, gutter-punk, drunk, junky, lost…

But more often in the twilight a couple holds hands while they hitchhike highway 97 under the Okanagan sun, a hopeful thumb stuck out as the SUV’s, mini-vans, BMW’s and Mercedes zip past, tinted windows hiding the disgusted or indifferent faces of tourists, retirees, middle-class families and “real-world” millennials on their way to vineyards for tastings or to the beach for an evening swim, while our couple smiles, curses, kicks pebbles, and sometimes says aloud  (in French, Spanish, English, Japanese and Korean)—fuck those guys—proud to be themselves (whoever they are), happy when a pick-up truck with a rusty bumper pulls to the side and an old farmer rolls down the window and shouts –“Throw your bag in the back and hop in!”—and happier still when they reach “home” under a marvelous orange twilight melting like sorbet over the young pines, set camp, build fire or light stove, share a pot of beans and bread, pass a bottle of something cheap and strong and tell the day’s stories to a neighbor, who like them, has come a long way to be at Loose Bay Campground in Oliver, and also, like them, has had an unusual day.