Today’s adventure starts with a cryptic email from Sage.
“Are you free on the 30th? If so, rent a car for the day. We’re doing a secret adventure.”
And so it is that we find ourselves at Pearson International Airport the day before Canada Day, taking one of the last available rental cars out in to the stunningly beautiful day. The sky is as blue as it gets, the air is a perfect 24 degrees and there’s a delightful breeze in the air.
Sage keys an address in to the navigation software and we’re off! Even Toronto’s traffic is cooperating with us today. Normally crawling along at a snails pace, the 401 is moving beautifully and we zoom across the city at over 100 km/hour. Soon we are in Markham, one of Toronto’s northern suburbs.
The address Sage keys in has led us to a dismal suburban strip mall. I pretend to be excited that we are going to a dollar store we’ve never been to before, but of course that isn’t what Sage has in mind. This is all part of Sage’s efforts to keep our final destination secret. We stay here just long enough to grab a quick snack and then we’re off, navigating by secret notes that Sage has written down.
Sage is a bit frustrated with me because she has tried three times already to schedule surprise adventures for me only for me to email her soon after to suggest that we do the same thing. I’m not a believer in psychic abilities but it is a little bit uncanny how I am able to somehow figure out exactly what she has planned for me.
But today I have no idea where we could possibly be going. As the strip malls disappear and we turn down rural roads, I recognize where we are. I’ve been out in this area on my bike. It’s a wonderful place to ride.
Ten kilometres later, Sage tells me I need to start watching for 19th Line and soon after that will be our destination. I get a bit nervous when the next thing in the distance is a golf course: with no depth perception to speak of I’m definitely not interested in that.
Then I notice something odd. Here in the middle of nowhere, the traffic is stopping. There are cars lining the sides of the road but with nothing to see. I ask Sage if we should stop and park and she thinks that it’s a good idea. So, far from any destination I can see, I park my car in the gravel on the side of the road in a long line of other parked cars.
I carefully open my door and get out because now there are cars slowly passing by us on the narrow road. What could this possibly be? With no idea where we are going I am resigned to walking in the direction she tells me and appreciating the surroundings which are stunning – filled with greenery and a blue blue sky with white cotton-candy clouds.
As we get closer, the fields around us clue me in. We’re going berry picking! While I stumbled across berry patches as kid walking through the woods, I’ve never gone to a farm to pick my own. I tell Sage my idea and she is pleased. I figured it out at just the right time – we’ll be there in just a few minutes. We’re going to a farm where we can pick our own organic strawberries.
The walk takes us about ten minutes. As we go the traffic is crawling. Families walk back toward us carrying baskets of all sizes overflowing with strawberries. People of all ages are there from babies being carried by their parents or in strollers all the way up to elderly folks slowly making their way along the road.
When we get close to the edge we see that the traffic is now so bad the police have been called to direct traffic.
Just beyond the police is the farm and when we get there we see two lines – one for cash only, another for people using credit or debit cards. We join the cash line and after a couple of minutes of waiting, we get to this sign:
A ninety minute wait is not what we were expecting but it is such a lovely day. In fact, even the youngest children seem happy to just be out in the sun enjoying the day. Sad for me, though: I realize I left my bag in the car – the bag that has our water. It’s one thing to spend 30 minutes in a field picking berries and then going, but spending at least two hours in the sun with no water is not going to work. I ask Sage to hold our place in line and head back to the car.
As I turn back I get a look at the scale of the traffic. It seems to be getting worse.
I squeeze between the parked cars and the moving cars, occasionally stopping to answer the question that’s on all the drivers’ minds: “Why is there so much traffic? What’s happening ahead?”
Finally I get back to Sage. She’s moved a little bit forward in line but we still have some distance to go – and there are tons more people.
It is really wonderful to be here. I hear so many languages being spoken around me: Tamil, Mandarin, Russian, Hindi, Arabic, and even some I don’t recognize. We’re all waiting in a long line and somehow we’re all cheerful. Such is the power of delightful weather and the promise of fresh strawberries, I guess.
We finally get to the gate and pay for our tickets. They are $12 per person and allow us each to fill a small basket. Bigger baskets are available at higher cost. We have no big plans for ours, though. Sage will make some ice cream and we will eat some fresh from the basket so we don’t need so many.
Baskets in hand we get to another lineup for a tractor with a trailer to bring us to the back fields.
As we wait for the people to climb in to the tractor, an employee comes around and tells us that the fields are just 8 minutes away by walking. We decide to venture out on our own.
At the end of the trail we see so many people. A Punjabi grandfather, grandmother and uncle sit on lawn chairs in the shade watching the grass where small children play and the strawberry fields beyond. Parents get their kids out of strollers and carry them in to the fields which are full of people.
There seem to be two fields here. One is close by with more people going to them. Another is further away. Hoping that this one has been picked less, leaving more ripe strawberries for us, we head there. Along the way we pass more fields.
Finally we reach the more distant field. But even here there are lots of people.
We enter the fields and start looking. And immediately it feels like a video game to me. We are searching for coins or rings hiding in various places. Most of the obviously ripe fruit has been picked by people there before us but if you are watchful you can find some things hiding under the leaves.
On our way in we were reminded by a sign that we could taste the fruit but we weren’t allowed to eat the fruit. That distinction is easy for me to understand but I wonder about how easy it might be for a toddler. Of course they won’t impact the farm’s bottom line that much.
Taking their advice, I decide to taste one. I find a fruit that is a little bruised on one side – not something anyone will wish they had picked and take a bit out of the intact side. It is so delightfully sweet, tart, and warm from the sun. It tastes like air, sunshine, water and the love of bees. In other words, the essence of summer.
We pick for 20-30 minutes, filling our baskets. As we do it I gain a lot of respect for the people who pick the food we eat. I can feel my back and legs getting sore from just a few minutes of this work. Imagine doing this all day, several days a week.
Finally our baskets are completely full. We make our way back through the forest.
As we walk out we see that the line to get in is about twice as wide as it was when we arrived. It’s going to be a long day for some people, but a delightful one – parents and family members chatting while their children chase each other in the grass.
I’m really glad we had this trip. This was an experience I always had wanted to do but never got around to scheduling. I also always imagined it as a part of a larger and more difficult project. Instead of doing it as a manageable and fun project like I did today, I imagined riding my bike 50 kilometres out to a farm, picking all day, riding 50 kilometres home and then making jam from the fruit the next day. Projects like that can be wonderful, but it is always better to do a simple thing than it is to put off doing what seems like a more exciting thing. Just experiencing a day like this is enough. There is no need for more.
Also! We created an Instagram story of today’s adventure. You can see video of the whole experience here.