For the majority of you who don't know, Kelsey Scult, my friend from Bush, invited me to work on her neighbor's cherry farm with her in The Dalles Oregon for a few weeks. Judy, a 75 year old single woman, owns the farm.
The first day we arrived at Judy's 100 year old remodeled farm house, filled with plenty of bedrooms for many guests of all ages and wired with all the typical modern amenities. I was able to quickly make myself feel at home. I was shown to my room in the dark and cool basement where I found a king-sized bed draped with fresh beige sheets made of the softest material. In a short amount of time, we are at the local grocery store buying the food I typically eat, which makes me feel ever more comfortable. But, it is not just the physical comforts that help me ease into my farm lifestyle for the next few weeks, Judy, my 75 year old boss, lively surrogate grandmother, and single farm lady is the main reason I am able to ease into life on the farm with ease
. Judy is the woman I want to be when I am older: always smiling, healthy, and full of love. The first morning, I rise early and spring out of bed like toast in a toaster oven ready to begin the day. I toss on my running clothes and shoes, say a cheery "good morning" to Judy, and jog out the front door for my morning run. I rapidly learn this run will be no piece of cake. It begins with a huge hill that seems like it takes forever to run up, while my strides get smaller, legs get sorer, and breathing gets heavier. My route levels out for a few seconds, but not enough to make my breathing stop sounding like I have really bad asthma. Soon enough, too soon in fact, I find myself jogging up another incline. I realize that the whole country side I am running in consists of leg-burning rolling hills and wide open fields. It is absolutely gorgeous. With the sun shining on my face, the magnificent view of Mt. Hood, and hundreds of acres of orchards in the background I know I will be able to complete my run. I discover running is the best way to get to know a new place and it's surroundings. Finishing down the big hill, I feel more rejuvenated, have become more familiar with my new surroundings, and am prepared for the day ahead of me. I eat an abnormally large breakfast of raspberry-soy yogurt, a ripe yellow banana, and a piece of buttered seed toast that tastes exactly like the kind my grandpa bakes. With a few miles in my legs, fresh air in my lungs, new sights in my eyes, and nutritious food in my belly I am excited to begin my first day of work as a farm girl
. Little did I know the work would be so grueling and labor intensive. For a week straight my days were filled with body intensive raking, sweeping, pruning, shoveling, weeding, and mopping. A few times we were given breaks from the scorching heat and that was when we found ourselves painting screen doors in the garage filled with fumes, filling out punch cards for the pickers, or taking loads of trash to the disgusting land fill. These breaks from the temperature, however, never seemed long enough. We ate and drank like we may never see food again, to ensure we had enough energy to complete the day's work. Finding refuge in Judy's big cool house after a long day of work was one of the most rewarding experiences. I would eat a healthy snack of Triscuits, cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, and slices of turkey deli meat with a tall glass of refrigerated spring water. With a content stomach, I would head upstairs for the best thing ever: a shower. My inner-city girl would come out with my content in taking a long steamy shower; throughly scrubbing my scalp with an ample amount of the nicest smelling shampoo so as to insure no creepy crawly critters remained. Time was of no importance, now. The rest of my afternoon was filled with reading novels and writing in my journal- pure bliss. Kelsey and I would team cook an early evening dinner- always a healthy balance of meat, carbs, and veggies. GO TEAM! Then we would be out on our evening walk. During our walk, we would look back on the day, discuss the progress we made on certain projects, and chat about deeper things like future plans or past issues
. This all happened while the sun set peacefully among the rolling hills and more distant mountain peaks. Returning home from our evening stroll we were ready to end the day by climbing into our soft cool beige sheets and closing our eyes to give our bodies and eyes a well deserved nights rest from the new experiences and sights we had as farm girls staying in Judy's big house among the rolling hills in The Dalles, OR- the place where I learned the value of hard labor with a balance of relaxation, good food, and joy.
A story about one of the pickers:
While working on a cherry farm in The Dalles, OR, repeatedly hole-punching picker's tickets before they dumped a bucket full of deep red cherries more the size of apples into the box, out of all 50 workers one man in particular stood out in my mind like Mr. Popper amongst all the penguins. In fact, he looked exactly like Mr. Popper- mustache and all. The only difference is that this small, shy man speaks Spanish. I had not taken Spanish for a little over a year, but while working I would try to listen to little bits his of conversations and try to pick up on words I may know. I figured that if I could understand what he was saying, I would be able to learn a little more about him, as a person, not just as somebody who looked like Mr. Popper minus the English and penguins
. The few words I was able to translate in my mind acted as the straight-edged pieces of the puzzle, but I was having difficulty filling in the center- the most important part of the puzzle, because it has the main picture that I am trying to replicate from the box. Overhearing one of his conversations between he and his picking partner, I was able to ascertain that he has a 5-year old child, split up with the mother of his child, and has a cousin named Carmen. He talked a lot about the separation, expressing his feelings to the other picker who could understand him completely and thus more of what he was feeling. I, however, only knew a few bare facts- or straight-edged pieces of the puzzle. Throughout my days on the farm, I noticed that he was one of the slower pickers, he repeatedly had trouble moving and carrying his ladder, and he always seemed to fear me. He acted like I was some mean, scary person that would do something bad to him. All of this made me want to understand his whole story; to be able to clearly see who he was. And, for him to understand the real me. One day he came to me with a problem, and I was more than happy to help him; he had lost his ticket. I gladly whipped out a new one and asked him his name. In his Spanish accent, he replied, "Martinez Santos Cruz". Trusting him, I asked him how many buckets he had picked before he lost his card, punched the holes, and handed him his ticket. I hoped he would not be as fearful of me after I helped him, but nothing changed, he still came towards me slowly with trepidation
. As my last day on the cherry farm came, I found myself sad to leave Martinez Santos Cruz, my human puzzle, unfinished. I was determined to find all the center pieces and piece together the beautiful picture one trembling Spanish word at a time. Bravely, I walked across the street and sat down with a few of the workers in the shade. I said, “Quiero practicar mi espanol”, meaning I want to practice my Spanish. We talked for a while, and then I saw Martinez Santos Cruz standing outside his room in the scorching sun. I gathered enough courage to make my way over to him. I repeated the same line I used when I approached the other workers, “Quiero practicar mi espanol”. Despite being a little rusty on my Spanish, it came back pretty easily. We swapped stories. I learned that he was living in Seattle for the past six months: for two months he was unemployed and taking care of his brother who had rib surgery in a hospital in Seattle and for the rest of the time he was working at a Korean restaurant in Factoria called “The Pecking Bowl” as a dish washer. He said that he decided to come to Oregon to pick cherries with some of his friends because he loved to be outside- he could not stand washing dishes inside over and over for hours every day. His face shined with a big smile when he pulled out his phone to show me a picture of snow in Seattle; the first time he had ever seen snow. And when he smiled, the corners of his mouth curved upward with his chocolate brown mustache displaying his crooked and slightly yellow teeth, I knew I had completed the puzzle I was yearning to finish. I left the farm that day satisfied.