October 2, 2008

Today was my first day operating a tree shaker for about six hours. Previous to this, I have only personally harvested almonds using the method of 100 years ago–thwacking the tree branches with long poles so that ants, dust, leaves, and almonds came raining down. It’s a filthy job and not really much fun, but it’s the only means by which to harvest the nuts non-mechanically.

So with no little sense of personal amusement I sat in the $100,000, air-conditioned enclosed machine listening to the classical music station while working away. Nice, huh? Well, sort of. If you’ve never see one of these things, they look like something out of Mad Max with a claw coming out of the side. The trees to be shaken are always the ones on the right. There are foot pedals for forward/reverse and RPM. There is a joystick for extending/retracting the rubber-padded claw, closing claw/shaking tree, and further the joystick can change the angle at which the claw can grab the tree trunk or a tree branch. For anyone remotely used to tractor operations, it’s not too difficult. Except, that any mistake can seriously damage the health of the tree…the trees are worth a lot of $$, and it’s not an easy job at all to make no mistakes whatsoever at. Any little error in manipulating the claw or positioning the machine can cause the tree bark to be damaged, which in almonds is an immediate problem for disease entry. So one has to pay very careful attention, all the time. What starts out seeming to be a comfy job morphs into little torments as neck and shoulder and knees and ankles and wrists and fingers stiffen under the repetitive movements. Sure, you’re supposed to get out and stretch often. But the rows and rows of trees leave one to think "just one more tree" before I take a break. Which becomes, "just one more row" before I take a break. And so on. But compared to the work involved not using a machine, I think I’ll stick with the fancy toy. There’s something to be said for pressing the button that shakes the tree. An incredible rain of dusty, nutty mess rains down all around the cab, but none of it gets inside. Moths and spiders and all sorts of little biology lessons roll down the glass windows. Maybe I’ll get to do that job again sometime. Sure beats weeding……

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. And since I want to spend the day looking at beehives, it surely will rain. Unless I first take the time to cover my firewood and outdoor equipment early in the day–then we won’t get a drop. We shall see…..




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