We climbed the hill. There’s always a hill. With perhaps a little better air than what we breathe below. Up to the crest and then a left down a tractor pathway.
At first you don’t see the cherries. They hide behind a jigsaw of green leaves and a wake of cirrus clouds. But each step brings out a red dot like pushpins you stick in wall maps to trace your real or imaginary trips. More steps, more pushpins until you witness trees bent over not from age but from a wealth of fruit. Clusters of electric marbles, electro-red, a red seldom seen.
We’ve come for sour cherries, the entry into a summer’s gorging. We pick, tentative at first, remembering color, ripeness and that upward twist and snap that transfers the offering from branch to fingertips. And sampling here and there to make sure our hand and eye and mouthfeel are in sync. Our cardboard basket fills, the too thin wire handle aching from its cargo.
In record time, our super sweep completes, the basket cradled in my arms. We walked to the tent to wait for the tractor-pulling haycart to take us back to the dull, familiar colors of our world.
We line up to board. A Japanese family takes up the front benches. They point to their cherry baskets, compare notes, and discuss their adventure. I assume this is what they’re saying. The language of fruit is universal. My wife and I follow and sit on the back benches facing each other. Following is a three-generation family from the middle east. My wife, who knows clothing details, tells me later they’re Pakistani. They fill in the seats around us.
There’s some concern about where Grandma should sit. Beside me? If we’d been more familiar, shared meals and talked of home, there’d be no problem. But I’m the stranger, another other on a dusty orchard road.
I ponder haycart etiquette. The issue solves when a woman/daughter, accustomed, I imagine, to more laissez-faire attitudes of travel, sits beside me giving Grandma the spatial respect that’s needed. On my other side, a mother with a small child, happy to be hand-fed cherries. His smile sends one out to me. Around the edge: another woman (sister?), an older child, and the young father/husband. And Grandfather, a gentle rooster watching over his flock. I hear scraps of English here and there, but no eye contact blinks my way. Ancient rules play out. All of us, mysterians: on carts, on busy boulevards, in shadowy cul-de-sacs. The mother covers the cherry-lipped boy with a cloth, a bit of refuge from the sun.
We reach the bottom and the tractor exhales. The Japanese family, closest to the step, descends. Then our side shuffles forward. I catch the eye of the father/husband as he stands. My glance turns into words.
You’ll have to come back for the peaches. They’re very good here.
We all climb off and find the pathway to our cars. But paths have a way crossing. A presence shades my shoulder. The father/husband, cradling his box of cherries. His glance finds words.
Are you from here?
Yes, we live here, nearby. And you?
Oh, we have a lot of friends there. A great place.
Yes. But a 90-mile trip here. But a good day to do it.
Yes. A long ride, but worth it.
We often go to New Jersey to pick. It’s much closer.
Yes, but come back here. For stone fruit, peaches, nectarines.
Our car was near and we parted ways. I thought to add a bit more autobiography, but the moment had passed. We were left with a moment, and sometimes a moment is all you’re given. No more, no less. And sometimes just enough.
We got into our car and pulled away along the farm-road tanned with dust and cobblestoned. We passed the family packing away their baskets. I gave a wave and he waved back.
I’ll never see them again unless there’s a syzygy of planets and peaches. But there was a moment when we stood on that crest, picked ripe, red fruit, placed it in our baskets, and sat near each other for a haycart ride. And spoke words, meaningful and meaningless. The impossible and possible in a world of our creation.
Laurence Carr is the publisher of Lightwoodpress.com and Lightwood magazine.