s. sits, sort of, leaning on the ladder. he's thirty feet up leaning into the apple tree suspended by a small limb. the tree is swaying in gusts from the ocean. s. looks out over the orchard and the grassy fields to the atlantic. the early morning september air has a rare clarity. the sun is risiing. he is a conscious part of the whole, which is infinite. he is without words or thought.
a week ago, s. was at the circle in the square. fritz and he were listening to a giant hippie extol the virtues of apple picking. he was recruiting for the apple farmers in maine. this seven foot youth had picked the year before and promised that they might make a thousand dollars if they picked from september 15th to october 15th.
when s. arrived at mcdonald's farm (yes, really) fritz was already there. the picking wouldn't start for a few days. fritz and s. scoured the dank woods for mushrooms. they found 30 varieties and sitting at the dining table under the watchful eyes of the five nova scotians, they sampled little bits of each of them to test their psycotropic properties.
"anything that will get you close to death, will get you high." doc stanley had said.
also in the bunkhouse was the portly 'cook' who was also the tractor driver. he moved the big wooden bins from the orchards to a cool storage warehouse.
they picked the apples from three orchards. the hours were 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.. at midday, for half an hour they ate two cheese and baloney sandwiches on white bread. if you took a little nap which was very tempting, you wouldn't be able to make yourself go back to work.
the work was strenuous and at dinner s. and all the other men would polish off not only a whole baked chicken apiece but also biscuits, potatoes and vegetables, plus a salad and apple juice; no coffee.
breakfast was at six, and you'd better get up in time.
a table would be set already with platters piled high with bacon and sausages. an unlimited supply of fried or scrambled eggs and even pancakes with real maple syrup.
the first few trips up the thirty foot ladder with a belly bucket were the hardest. but soon breakfast was digested and a good flow of power could be felt from it.
s. soon found out that apple picking was quite an art. the ladder narrowed to a single wooden tip about 18 inches long and sandwiched between the two side rails. this was called the 'feeler'. sometimes it was only the feeler pressing precariously on a flimsy high branch. you picked both sides and into the tree.
for speed you picked with both hands on the way up and on the way down until your bucket was full. then with two knotted cords you released the canvas bottom to let the apples gently roll into the bushel basket; which itself was later carefully poured into the big bin. that's how they knew how much to pay you. each day they counted your brimming bushels; .25 cents a bushel.
on the first interminable day, it seemed, s. and fritz picked 40 bushels each. that would be ten dollars pay. even if you only picked those 40 bushels for thirty days you would go home with $300., a tidy sum in those days.
s. studied the nova scotians and asked a lot of questions because they were all picking 90 bushels a day. that's where the 'art' comes in. of course the scotians had been doing this all their life. they migrated north to their home orchards. their 'season' lasted for three months.
with the help of the seasoned pickers s. was soon picking 90 bushels a day. fritz picked at his own leisurely pace and stayed at the unambitious 40 bushels.
one day fritz persuaded s. to hitch hike to portland to score some grass. but portland was dry. they hopped a freight to boston, scored and returned late at night on that freight train.
"freight train, freight train goin' so fast...."
the hypnotic rhythm of the steel wheels on tracks clacking clacking as they barreled through the crisp starry night, put them both to sleep for three hours. then the sun rising blasted into the open car door. they were close to bangor, the end of the line. from there they hitched easily to springvale. they missed breakfast and picking until noon was excruciating.
nobody said anything for a few days about their awol disappearance. then mr. mcdonald who was a wonderfully kind middle aged man with a large family, summoned s. to a private conference. he was the very picture of the farmer with denim overalls and a plaid flannel shirt.
s. hated confrontations but listened attentively.
"gonna let fritz go. he's not picking very well and i think he's a bad influence on you. since you pick a good share, you can stay." he paused, ruminating as he relit his briar pipe, "but we have to fire fritz. he can go to one of the other orchards, we'll arrange all that."
mcdonald also knew that fritz and s. would sometimes smoke a large bowl up in the branches. the pot always slows things down.
out of loyalty to his friend s. said, " i understand you need to get all these apples picked before a frost kills them, but fritz is not going to influence me anymore. please let him stay. i'll get him to pick a little harder."
"no, i'm sorry, he has to go."
"then i have to go too."
reluctantly, mr. mcdonald gave in and fritz and s. picked until the end of the season without any more holidays.
in a month the crew picked three orchards clean, down to the last apple on the last tree, so the field mice would have nothing to live on through the winter; they burrowed into the roots of trees. that could kill a tree.
the last week they picked the 'cortlands' (a large cooking apple) the cortlands grew in swollen clusters; you had only to kind of crack the cluster and the big apples rolled down your arms into the busket. the buckets filled fast and so did the bushels. the best nova scotian picked a whopping 165 bushels on each those days. s. was happy with 135. even fritz picked 60 bushels in the cortland orchard high on the hills overlooking the atlantic ocean.