I attended a memorial service this week for a Summerland pioneer who had passed away earlier in the year. As is so often the case with me such an event has led to a series of reflections about lives lived, the influence that we have on each other and how your life is most certainly not a succession of random circumstances.
This gentleman was born in Summerland over 90 years ago and tended orchards in the area all his life. I probably met him 50 years ago, in an orchard no doubt. Those of us of a certain age who have lived in the Okanagan for decades would be very familiar with the orchard life that he lived. Even those of us who didn’t own orchards spent much time in them; parents and then children.
That was the case for me. My parents thinned and picked fruit as the seasons progressed and my brothers and I tagged along. We had some great adventures until we became old enough to pick cherries. Picking cherries was not our idea of fun-filled youth but it did provide us with money for new school clothes every September.
As I got older my connection with the orchard became stronger. I was responsible for “changing the pipes.” I’d wake up early every morning, ride my bike up to the orchard and move the sprinklers from one row to the next. Many of you might be familiar with this ritual; dragging the twenty foot aluminum pipes under the trees and hooking them in a line. The ritual was repeated at night after supper; back up to the orchard to move the pipes over another row.
When the entire orchard had been watered it was time to hook the trailer to the tractor, pick up the pipes and move them all down to the other end. My employer would drive the tractor, I’d ride on the back of the trailer, hopping off at intervals to grab the pipes and tossing them on.
When I reflect on this job, which I did for several years through my childhood and teen years, I can see how important it was in my life. First, it was a job, a job that provided spending money to buy vital products like record albums and ten speed bikes. But it was much more than that. Changing pipes was a responsibility; you had to show up twice a day to complete the task. No one was going to do it for you and those apple and cherry trees were dependent on you to bring water to them.
There were no Ipods or even Walkmans 40 years ago. As I lifted the pipes and ducked under the trees I was alone with my thoughts. I’d make up melodies or sing to myself in the classroom of silence. We need more opportunities to listen to our thoughts these days.
By the time I was 17 technology was advancing. Orchardists were installing pvc pipes underground and automatic systems to handle the irrigation. My last job for him was helping to complete this system in the orchard.
I remember those days in the orchard with great fondness. He was a good and gentle, soft spoken man who treated me with respect. I still dream about that orchard on occasion and when I walk through our pot-in-pot tree nursery in Trout Creek I get a warm and familiar feeling. Flanked by trees in straight lines, I can hear the leaves, branches and roots humming with energy. I know where that comes from; changing the pipes.

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