The summer before fifth grade my family moved to Grand Junction Colorado.
Grand Junction was so named because it is situated at the joining of the Grand (now called the Colorado) and the Gunnison Rivers on what is known as the Western Slope of Colorado.
The area is dominated by the Grand Mesa directly to the East which rises 5500 feet over Grand Junction itself and is the largest flat topped mountain in the world.
The valley itself is a "high desert" about 4500 feet above sea level. The area is home to many orchards.
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Our family bought a house on eight acres in the Orchard Mesa region of the valley with a beautiful view of the Grand Mesa. An orchard occupied around half the property and the vast majority of that orchard was peaches.
I love peaches. And peaches ripe off the tree taste like nothing else on earth. The fresh sweet juiciness contained in a peach, just plucked golden and red off the tree, is something that refreshes my soul...
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Our move to the orchard wasn't about the taste of a peach, the high desert air or a beautiful mountain view.
My father bought an orchard to teach his boys how to work.
And an orchard requires (a lot of) work, which was my dad's whole insidious idea. So to paraphrase Dr. Seuss: someone, Someone was going to have to do all this work, so my dad picked out two someones: my brother and me.
The work began slowly while school was in session. We would have evening and weekend tasks in the orchard: helping to fertilize, prune, and plant and general cleanup.
But when summer came around the Work part of the tasks truly kicked into gear.
And by far the worst orchard Work was thinning peaches.
Peach trees often produce clusters of peaches all touching each other. Left to mature, those clusters will form conjoined small unappetizing bumpy masses of a fruit like substance covered in peach fuzz. In order to get large, round, fully fleshed peaches the extra peaches on the tree must be removed so that there is space for each remaining peach to grow individually (no clusters.) The extraneous peach removal process is called thinning.
There are several thinning methods that are be utilized on fruit trees in general. Among these are spraying the budding trees with a chemical that reduces the number of flowers that form and mechanical thinning in which trees are shook or otherwise manipulated by mechanized contraptions to get rid of the extra fruit. Peaches must be, for the most part, hand thinned. Somebody going tree by tree by tree, branch by branch, limb by limb, peach by peach and individually, with your hands, picking off the clustered peaches.
Hand thinning is a lot of work. Especially when you aren't talking about one or two trees, but hundreds.
When the peaches have grown to roughly the size of a ripe peach's pit, it is thinning time! This also just happens to correspond to the time when the temperature in Grand Junction begins to reflect its desert habitat. And it is All desert.
My brother and I had clearly laid out instructions during the summer. Before dad came home from work (around five in the afternoon) we had to have finished all our chores. Not very complicated, pretty simple, not much left to interpret. During peach thinning "season" our main task was to thin two rows of peach trees a day (something like forty trees.)
Depending on our industriousness this task would take somewhere between two to three hours (although my memory is a little fuzzy on that fact). The mornings are also much cooler then mid afternoon, and so if we got right to it we should be done by about ten to eleven in the morning before the heat of the day was upon us.
We rarely -if ever- got right to it.
We played. We played ping pong, we played basketball, we drove the tractor around, we explored the dirt cliffs overlooking the Colorado River, we built tree houses, you name it - we did it, all before about 2 to 3 in the afternoon. At that point an adrenaline alarm would go off in our bodies. We would look at each other and realize that "Dad was coming home" and rush out to the orchard. We would frantically thin peaches, in the heat of the day (peach fuzz sticks amazingly well to sweaty boys), and typically get done just before dad returned home.
There was one "helper" in our thinning. It was a long pole topped with a heavy rubber half hooked knob. It was used to (gently) tap peach clusters that were out of reach. Done with some skill and patience one could properly thin those out of reach clusters about half the time. The other half would result in knocking all the clustered peaches off the tree. So the knocker was only to be used for "out of reach" clusters.
One summer's day, around noon we received a call from friends with an offer to go water skiing that afternoon.
Water skiing, hmmm, it's hot, really hot, playing in the water, water skiing, hmmm.
One catch: they would need to pick us up in a half hour. We hadn't done any thinning yet. We looked at one another and the industrial engines of our minds began to work. We said, "yes" to the skiing invitation and then rushed to the back shed.
Taking the rubber knocking pole as inspiration, we decided that we would use our own mechanical contraptions to compress our thinning time from two to three hours down to twenty minutes. We deconstructed an old bicycle pump and from it got the T handle with its attached metal piston rod (a Double Ended Knocker!) and got a nine iron out of the golf bag.
We ran to the orchard and thinned those trees in twenty minutes. We finished on time, caught our ride to the lake, and spent the afternoon in watery bliss, absolutely amazed with our inventive genius.
When we came home, dad was standing in the doorway. . . Dad never stood in the doorway.
We looked at each other in great puzzlement. "What do you think is going on with dad?" "I dunno." Dad looked at us in supremely evident fatherly frustration and said, "Gentlemen, let's go out to the orchard."
He took us to the rows of peaches we had just "thinned" that day. Summer evening sunlight softly illuminated utter devastation. We had industriously defoliated all of our assigned rows of peach trees. Broken branches either lay on the ground or hung still half attached to the trees. Nearly all the peaches and over half the leaves from those trees had be removed. Half peaches were clinging to the trees (miss-hits from the nine iron). Dad was speechless for a time (and didn't really need any speeches, our day's work spoke too well for itself).
We were marched back to the house and consequences were measured out that I don't even remember. But I will always remember our astonishment at the damage we had done, the disappointment in my father's countenance, and the realization that actions have consequences.
Proverbs 12 (NIV):
15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 17 (NIV):
21 To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.
That day my brother and I were fools, and there was no joy in my father.