Picking cherries is dangerous. Step ladders are too short to reach the top of the tree. Extension ladders are too unstable to rest reliably on the bendy upper branches where the ripest cherries grow. One is tempted to climb to get them, suspending fear of heights, defying the law of gravity and denying the weightiness of mortality. Seldom can one risk so much for so little.
This is the first year our cherry tree has produced any significant harvest. Last year, it made only a couple of dozen delicious Rainer cherries. I say they were delicious not because I got to taste any, but because the birds seemed to enjoy them so much. This spring, the tree, which has grown to take up half the backyard, is fully populated with the red-and-yellow cherries. I have already picked a gallon or so of the low-hanging fruit and I can’t even see where I’ve been. I know the sweetest cherries are hopelessly out of reach to all but those two blasted cardinals lurking in the nearby lilac, sneering at me for my lack of wings. If only there was some way to reach those cherries!
Picking fruit in general is hazardous. In Washington State, known for its apples, statistics show that orchard injuries alone are responsible for 45 to 55 percent of workers compensation claims on farms. The Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center reports that ladders are mostly to blame. Blinded by their lust for the luscious fruit, pickers suffer sprains, contusions, fractures, dislocations and worse because of unstable ladders, slipping on ladders, falling off ladders, overextending themselves on ladders and getting clobbered by falling ladders. And apples are a lot easier to pick than cherries.
That’s why cherry pickers were invented. A cherry picker, of course, is a big industrial machine with a platform or a bucket on a telescoping boom arm large enough for a person to stand in. This allows somebody to reach the fruit or other lofty location with safety and convenience (barring high-voltage cables or low-flying aircraft). Another advantage of the cherry picker is that it allows the picker to, well, cherry-pick. Not every cherry in the tree deserves to be picked. Some are not ripe, some are rotten, and some, though picked, have been pecked. Birds don’t eat the whole cherry like any decent pest. They just stab it once, leaving a nasty, oozing wound, and go on the next cherry. Thus the need for careful cherry-picking.
Instead of removing our fence to bring in an industrial cherry picker to get those ripe cherries at the top of the tree, I came up with a brilliant solution. You know those pincher tools that let you grab a can of garbanzo beans from the top shelf without having to stand on a wobbly kitchen chair? Well, I got one for picking those hard-to-reach cherries, and it works great. Or almost great. There were still a dozen perfectly ripe red and golden cherries dangling from a few willowy twigs at the top of the tree. If I could only get a few inches closer, I could grab the cherries and those greedy cardinals would have to go eat worms instead. I looked up at the cherries, then I looked way down to the ground. And you know something? Those cherries were probably sour anyway.