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Unforgettable Visit to Washington’s Wine Country

Picking Cherries and Sharing Breakfast on Father’s Day

On a cross-country road trip on their way to Alaska, Lindsay and Chris Harvey camped for a night at a winery in Washington’s Columbia Valley. They were in for quite a surprise.

My wife Lindsay and I never knew how beautiful Washington could be until we passed through by chance around Father’s Day a few years ago. We were traveling on an epic and meandering RV trip to Alaska from our former home in Florida.

By the time we reached Washington, we were eager to cross the border and take the most direct route to Alaska. However, my wife had an important medical appointment in Spokane later that week. So, we had some time to kill.

The area’s campgrounds were full. And, as we don’t typically plan our travel far in advance, we found limited options for where to stay. But as we were in the heart of the Columbia River Valley wine region, we figured we would use our camping memberships to find a vineyard that would permit us to camp on their property.

Our search led us to Chelan to a small family-owned winery along the Columbia River. We pulled up on Saturday afternoon, greeted the vineyard’s owner John and set up camp.

John gave us a quick tour of the property, and we purchased a bottle of wine and settled in an area of the vineyard that we thought would offer the best view of the sunset.

Surprise Cherry trees
Cherry Trees in the Columbia Valley. Photo is courtesy of Chris and Lindsay Harvey. 

An Unusual Request

Near sunset, with the last of the wine in hand, we wandered the property and soon found ourselves at the edge of a new orchard, one filled with cherry trees ripe for the harvest.

I heard chatter behind a row of trees bursting with ripe cherries, so I walked toward the voices to ask permission to take a few photographs. I met a group of five men huddled beneath the trees speaking in Spanish to each other.

I knew a little Spanish from various travels, so I asked if I could take a few pictures.

A man named Isaac responded in English, realizing that I would probably understand him better that way. He said we could take as many pictures as we wanted and waved his hand to show the breadth of the property.

I thanked him and began to walk away, when it struck me suddenly to ask a question that he probably did not expect: “Could I help them pick cherries?”

There was a reason I asked. Although we had set out for Alaska, we knew we were passing through so many states and wanted to accomplish a goal in each one of them. Instead of just stopping at the state line and taking a photo in front of each sign, or simply spending the night within a state’s borders, we decided that we would volunteer in every state we visited.

Isaac smiled and responded with little hesitation.

“If you can be here at 5 a.m. tomorrow I can put you to work until it gets too hot, and we have to call it a day.”

I grinned widely and accepted the invitation to join the cherry-picking crew the next day. We then ran to the closest grocery store and loaded up with bacon, eggs and hash browns as Lindsay had the idea of cooking breakfast for the workers in the morning.

Surprise Hero Cherry picker ladder
Cherry picking in the Columbia Valley. Photo is courtesy of Chris and Lindsay Harvey.

In the Orchard

The following morning, we arrived at the orchard excited about the day. I set up a cooking station for Lindsay and then wandered off into the trees following the familiar voice of Isaac.

When I found him, he looked at me, laughed and told me that he didn’t expect me to show up. Then he handed me a basket, and one of the other men grabbed an elastic harness and fitted the basket to my chest with the harness straps around my back. He then showed me which cherries were ready and how to gently pick them from the tree.

The other men I met the day before were above me already, standing on ladders and hard at work. Isaac dropped a handful of cherries into my bucket and sent me on my way to pluck the lower-hanging fruit that didn’t require a ladder. I am 6 feet 4 inches with long, dangling arms and knew exactly why he assigned me that role.

For the next three hours, I picked cherries from the trees. My Spanish wasn’t good enough to speak much with the other men. But I learned they were brothers from Mexico and they had eight children between them. Here they were working incredibly hard on Father’s Day while their wives and children were two hours away.

Surprise Cherries close up
Closeup of cherries. Photo is courtesy of Chris and Lindsay Harvey.

Saying Goodbye

As we unstrapped the buckets from our chests and mulled the several crates of cherries we hauled in for the day, Isaac approached and handed me a wad of cash. Once again, I politely declined and reminded him of the deal all along — that we were volunteering to help the men in the field that day.

“Give it to the brothers,” I said with a smile.

Isaac then shared how grateful they were for my help and overwhelmed by Lindsay’s cooking. He wrote his contact information on a piece of paper and told me I had a job picking cherries or whatever was in season any time that I was in the area.

We parted ways, and Lindsay and I spent the rest of the day sitting at the edge of the Columbia River dreaming of our impending two months adventure in Alaska. Later, while leaving Chelan, we drove past one cherry orchard after another ripe with fruit, and I wondered how many Isaacs and sets of brothers, fathers and other hardworking men were in the fields that day filling their crates so that we can enjoy the fruit of their labor.

– Written by Chris Harvey
– Top photo shows Chris Harvey standing between two workers in the cherry orchard. Photo is courtesy of Chris and Lindsay Harvey.

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