Video: Salal Picking, the Enterprise That Made Forks a Magnet for Hispanics--and the Border Patrol

Forks picking salal1.jpg
Forks, the setting of this week's cover story, used to be a renowned logging town. But then came the spotted-owl debate and the closure of logging lands. In time, another industry started to boom, one that brought an influx of Hispanics to this blue-collar town, which in turn brought intense scrutiny from the Border Patrol. That industry is salal, a plant that grows on the mountainsides of the Olympic Peninsula. So what does salal look like and how does one pick it?

Below is a video of a 37-year-old Mexican man SW met while reporting in Forks. Fernando, as we'll call him, has been picking salal in the woods around Forks for the last seven years. As you'll see, he strides into the woods with a long knife. But that's for the bears, should he meet any, not the salal, which he picks by hand until he has enough strands for a bunch. When he has 50 or 100 bunches, he'll tie them with a rope to his head and carry them back to his van.

It's laborious work. "Sometimes you can take a spill," Fernando says. "You're glad you didn't lose your life."

Even more difficult is the task of avoiding Border Patrol agents, who Fernando says often lay in wait on forest roads. So Fernando, who is illegal, takes precautions. He drives into the woods as early as 4:30 or 5 in the morning, waiting in his car until it gets light, and doesn't re-emerge until 9 or 10 in the evening.

In between, he gets lots of work in, often spending 10 or 12 hours a day collecting the valuable plant prized by florists around the world.

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