The sun dips in and out from behind clouds. The air is damp and raw in the remaining hours of the year’s harvest. Evening snow flurries are predicted. The hour bends towards quitting time, and there is still much work to do. The men are in a dead sprint orchard-wide. From one end of the orchard, the rattling of aluminum ladders as men move them along to pick the remaining few apples from trees whose leaves have turned bright yellow. From the other end, the drumming of apples into plastic buckets. Everywhere the drone of tractors hauling away bins heavy with fragrant apples. The orchestra of combined tasks fills October air with the frantic music of the harvest coming to an end.
Seth Forrence stands at the head of the dining room and cracks open a beer. “Gentlemen, thank you very much for all the help this year. We’re very appreciative. It wasn’t an easy one to pick, glad that everyone is healthy going home to families.” Granny distributes cans of Busch and Labatt Blue to hands reaching in from every direction. The entire camp is gathered at tables or leaning against the dining room walls. The men rest heavy in their seats. “It’s hard to believe some of you and I have been together 14 years.” The men raise their cans and nod.
On the patio outside, a handful of men snap cell phone pictures of down feather-sized snowflakes falling from the darkening October sky. The floor around Neville Betty’s bed is covered with open suitcases, piles of clothing, boots, gifts of deodorant soap, boxes of Honey Toasted Oats and Raisin Bran from the Dollar Store, toasted peanuts, non-dairy creamer, and instant coffee. Neville grows coffee on his farm in the Blue Mountains, where some of the world’s finest is produced, but back home he drinks instant coffee early in the morning. It’s not until 9am that he enjoys a cup made with his own beans. The heavy winter boots he keeps under his bunk, and he gathers winter jackets and clothing by the armload and hangs them in his tall gray locker to wait for his return next September. Cold weather clothing has no use in Jamaica.
Drizzy sits beside his bunk scraping seeds out of a yellow bell pepper, purchased at the Tops market in town, to plant on his farm back home.
The kitchen has been commandeered by Nuthan “Babatunde” Gallimore, preparing chicken foot soup. At the stove he adds chopped pumpkin, yams, Irish potatoes, Cho-Cho squash, okra, red peas, scallions, coconut milk, butter, and wallet-sized packets of Jamaican cock flavored soup mix to a massive pot of simmering chicken feet. A celebratory bowl of the thick yellow stew, complete with dense dumplings made from flour and salt, and chicken feet cooked until nearly gelatinous, has become a tradition on the eve of departure.
The men perform a physical and mental transformation from their apple orchard personas back to the men they left behind in Jamaica two months ago. Many shave their heads before coming to the orchard, let their hair grow out, then shave it all off before returning home. Electric shavers and clippers are run over the tops of heads and faces. Tufts of dark hair fall to the floor. Preparations for the three-day return trip to Jamaica continue all night. Drizzy and Betty cook a pork loin to eat during the long bus ride to Florida.