I heard about cherry picking in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley over a year ago. Since then, the idea kept floating in the back of my mind as a fun way to earn some fast cash. Now I finally found myself on the west coast with 10 months of travelling and no real money-earning work behind me; I decided to give it a go. Everyone I spoke to told me there wasn't need to prearrange work, just show up where the cherries are and go talk to some pickers. Apparently I would be able to find said pickers and just know who they were - young nomad types I guessed, and based on what I'd heard, more likely than not, French-Canadian.
The idea of showing up alone in a new city with no contacts, little money, and zero plans was nerve racking but the challenge also excited me. However, the various scenarios of how my unplanned arrival could pan out less than smoothly did cross my mind now and then. That was part of the reason why I decided to ride my bike the more than 400 kilometres to get there. I figured that way, if all went to hell when I arrived, I could at least decide to see it as a "journey not the destination" type of thing.
As I mounted my bicycle in Vancouver, setting out on my journey, I quickly discovered that my fully packed, roughly 90 pound beast-of-a-bicycle was incredibly unstable under all that weight. Having named my circa late 80's Norco, Louise, after Thelma and Louise, I decided in that moment of uneasy departure to consciously ignore any foreboding irony (should Louise and I meet our fate over one of the approaching roadside cliffs). With multiple mountain passes and over 1300 metres of elevation gain ahead of me, I was not confident in that moment that I'd be physically capable of the challenge. Despite all of my pre-game enthusiasm, I pedalled out of Vancouver with one stupefied thought on my mind: "what the hell have I gotten myself into?" Funny thing was, I recognized that thought. Indeed I noticed a theme in that many of my ambitious adventures begin with me asking that exact same question to myself. What I knew from those adventures was that almost of all them turned out to be some of my proudest and most fulfilling experiences. So with hands clenched, shoulders tense, and extreme focus so as not to tip belly up, Louise and I slowly - carefully - pedalled eastward.
And so commenced the next two phenomenal months of my life. I arrived in the Okanagan Valley in one piece, questioning only my mental state; skeptical that any sane person could have such a through and through blissful experience whilst trudging a 90 pound bike over mountain ranges. The valley was stunning and I was excited to have made it. But it was not until some days later, arriving at my new found cherry picking job, that I would truly come to appreciate the greatness of possibilities that awaited me in that valley.
I ran into momentary social anxiety upon the realization that I was arriving alone and mid-season to this new job. I envisioned 30 or so French-Canadians who had already spent weeks living and working together, getting to know each other, forging friendships, and bonding on a level that I - a solely English speaker - could never fully share in. But despite these elaborate fears of feeling like an outsider, upon arrival I quickly realized that I had landed somewhere special. The people gathered at this orchard could not have been more friendly and welcoming. Aside from the occupational and locational perks - living outdoors, being paid to climb in trees, unlimited cherries to eat, workdays that ended by noon, getting to practice my French, rivers and lakes around every corner - the people I got to live and work with were quite simply, awesome. It was almost hard to wrap my head around how so many open-minded and accepting people could have ended up in one place. Arriving late in the harvest, my cherry gig only lasted two weeks, but that was more than enough time to fall head over heels into the experience. One picker aptly put it when he explained that cherry picking is essentially like summer camp for adults, except that you also get paid. Everything about it totally exceeded my best expectations. I felt fulfilled and invigorated... and I didn't want it to end.
But alas, wanting was not enough to prevent the onset of reality. The cherries all got harvested, we threw one last hurrah, and within a few days everyone had wandered their separate ways and moved on. As I once again loaded up my bicycle, I reflected on the emotions that were surfacing. They were familiar emotions, the kind that arise whenever it's a time of goodbye. And since goodbyes are a symptom of change, then they are seemingly unavoidable because if there's anything I can think of to be a common denominator for everything that is life, it's change. People travel and relocate, friendships evolve, careers change, people die, and no entirety of myself seems to ever cease expanding. Change is both inevitable and inescapable. Sometimes change is welcomed and readily embraced, other times change means an end to something that's been positive. When the latter is the case, there is often inclination to try to hold on.
When it came to leaving the orchard there was definitely a part of me that wanted to resist, say hell with reality, dig my nails into the memories, and only accept otherwise once the truth pulled me away kicking and crying. But the thing was that this scenario had no effect on the end result, it would only create a lot of self-induced torture along the way. So I decided against unnecessary suffering and accepted the fact and reality that change was going to happen. When I thought about how temporary my amazing situation was I would acknowledge that thought and confront the awareness with two things: staying present and practicing gratitude. It was simple and it was achievable. In fact, it was self-reenforcing. Focusing mindfulness and gratitude on the present moment not only made me feel centered and happy, but it meant that I was making the most of my time there. And what could be more reassuring than that?
I didn't have plans for what I was going to do next and as I pedalled away from the orchard for the last time I realized that I couldn't even imagine anything comparable to what the last two weeks had been. I had a sense that I had peaked experientially and whatever was in store for me next would surely be less fulfilling. Luckily, I was able to catch myself in that moment and call my own bullshit. Who says things have to eventually stop getting better? Why was I putting some sense of limitation on the potential and greatness of my experiences? If there was anything that past experiences have taught me, surely it's that amazing things are to come, even though I likely won't see them coming. Failure to dream up incredible scenarios has never been able to prevent them from materializing.
I recently stumbled across an interview where Mark Nepo puts it flawlessly into words:
We're so attached to the identities, relationships, and dreams that have brought us this far... but like a cocoon, when a butterfly emerges the cocoon has served its purpose - it doesn't mean it's false - it means it's served its purpose. And our dreams, our identities, our ambitions, our relationships, they're often cocoons that lead us to the next. And we get so understandably attached that we get in conflict when it breaks or falls away; we don't see what it's opened us to.
I can't see into the future, so I won't ever know for certain what's in store next for me. That probably has a lot to do with that desperate, yearning feeling of wanting to hold on when I've got something good. It's the same old story: fear of the unknown. But time and time again experience blows my mind with unforeseeable awesomeness. Reminding myself that great, unfathomable things are to come (if I let them), helps prevent me from falling too deep into reminiscence and wistfulness. It's not that I want to forget or disregard past experiences, but I also don't want to get so wrapped up in them that I miss out on the present. After all, I can reminisce on the past and speculate about the future, but like it or not, all I will ever have is right now. Better to soak up as much of every moment as possible and then know that it's okay to let go. Letting go isn't forgetting. Letting go is allowing myself to appreciate the next moment that has already come.