These passages are excerpted from the long chapter “My Summer of Cherries and Trout”.
The orchard was about ten miles out on the peninsula that separates Grand Traverse Bay into two halves. I introduced myself to the family standing in their front yard. The farmer and I shook hands, and I was hired with little more than a nod. The cherries, however, were still ripening. I was at least two weeks too early. My recent lover’s friend was the farmer’s daughter. She was about my age.
She gave me a lift for the mile or so back down the road to the row of migrant shacks. None of the Mexican workers had arrived yet, so I had my pick of accommodations. My room was a cinderblock cell in a row of like cells. I had a south-facing window, a bare electric light bulb centered in the ceiling, a one-burner hotplate, a dorm-size refrigerator, a formica table with two chairs, and a very squeaky single bed. There was an outdoor shower, and an old wringer-style washing machine, also outside, under a porch roof tacked to the back of the building. A row of outhouses stood off by itself. The migrant camp was set among miles of orchards –cherries, plums, prunes, apples, and peaches, planted over rolling dunes. I unfurled my sleeping bag on the bed, and set my few things out on the table.
The farmer’s daughter gave me a ride into Traverse City, where I spent most of my meager funds on groceries, and a cheap coffee percolator. Along the way we chatted about our mutual friend, and told each other about ourselves. All the while, we were looking each other over. She was going to be around for a couple of weeks before returning to the east coast, where she’d been living.
She came to visit me alone a few times before she left, and before the Mexicans arrived. A very squeaky bed, indeed. A few times, we went into Traverse City with friends of hers, particularly a young couple who lived in a stone cottage on the wooded shore of Bowers Harbor. They had a beehive, and a garden. Dried herbs hung from their front porch roof. He had a beard, and she had hairy legs. Their yellow dog wore a red bandanna. They were always overflowing with laughter. The four of us would go out to a hoppin’ jukejoint called The Sawmill (motto: You’ll never get bored feet at The Sawmill!) to eat cheeseburgers, drink beer, and listen to rowdy stringbands stomp it out for the dancers.
I ran out of money before the cherries got ripe. I’d been boiling eggs in a Campbell’s soup can, and to supplement my egg diet I roamed the orchards looking for early cherries but there wasn’t much to be had, although I found nice stands of wild asparagus. When I wasn’t foraging, I sometimes sat outside my door in the sun, leafing through “The Whole Earth Catalogue,” or studying “The Dome Builder’s Handbook,” planning my dream home.
My farmer’s daughter was gone but my hairy friends with the cottage fed me a couple of meals, and then gave me a fishing pole and a small tackle box. In my rambles through the orchards, I’d found a farm a half-mile or so to my west with a couple of ponds out back of the house, just beyond the barn. At dusk, I walked through the orchard, climbed a fence, crossed a lush hay meadow, climbed another fence, and slipped up to the pond and went fishing. I fished mostly by feel, as I kept my eyes on the house, which was lit up for the evening. Among the yellow lights, I could see the blue glow of the TV flickering, so I felt pretty safe.
The pond was stocked with trout. Overstocked, in my opinion. They were so hungry, I got a bite on every cast. They especially liked the red and yellow Rooster Tail I was tossing at them. Within ten minutes I had three good, pan-sized trout on my stringer. I was so hungry I could hardly wait to eat them. When I climbed the fence to the hay meadow, my figure atop the fence spooked a couple of horses loitering there in the low evening light. Back at the shack I rigged up a grill and built a fire of apple deadwood in the yard. While it was burning down, I gutted the fish, and when the fire was right, I grilled them. I can still taste them. Every fish I’ve eaten since has been and still is measured against that meal. After I’d eaten, I perked a cup of coffee and drank it and looked into the fire. After that I played the harmonica for a while. I played the only song I knew: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. I played it over and over, putting different kinds of English on it, until the fire died out.