When we were young, white, and poor, we were handed dull machetes. At first light, in the back of half-ton grain trucks, we rode past the peppermint fields and the pear orchards of southern Oregon. We were strangers thrown together like dice in a cup. Some of us smoked quietly or blew the steam off the tops of take-out coffee containers. Others sipped whiskey from dented flasks or spit tobacco into plastic bottles. In ratty plaid shirts, torn dungarees, and worn out boots we looked the part of migrant workers. We would work twelve hours with half-hour lunch breaks that felt like no break at all. At the end of our shift we were older, more broken, and still in debt.
Hops fields are jungles of rope-like vines climbing trellises to a height of more than ten feet. The narcotic plant did two things to me: it made me sleepy, and it ate through my clothing, perhaps a result of pesticides. No formal training was required, and it was understood that I was to be hoisted up in a bucket attached to a tractor to...
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