Monday, October 12, 2009
The first time our family went apple picking, our daughter was two, and we were visiting my husband’s brother, his wife and their two kids in southeastern Maine. Packing a picnic lunch we laid a blanket on the high grass of the orchard—relaxing as the warm September sun leached through sinew and muscles and into our blood. The kids reached on tiptoes to pick apples one by one. Later in the year I dug to the bottom of the apple bag and pulled out a shriveled specimen bearing the Chicklet indentation of two-year-old teeth.
We repeated the trip regularly, until one year, unable to make it up north; we picked our apples in-state. Friends recommended a farm northwest of us and when we arrived, a long line of cars snaking into the orchard telegraphed a warning that we weren’t in rural Maine this time. Crowds tripped over each other in the fields, a tractor pulled hay wagons full of humanity out to a distant pumpkin field to pick, and at every tree there was someone standing next to us competing for the prettiest fruit. The day was salvaged—marginally—by the apple cider donuts we purchased hot and by the bagful, which we munched on our way home.
The next time we didn’t make it to Maine we decided to forgo all the business above, proceeding to a new orchard, which wasn’t really new at all. Located on a tree-lined road about fifteen minutes from where I grew up, in memory it stood as a leaning shed doing business as a dilapidated farm stand. My mother used to load us into the car to make the ride there each week; we’d return with brown paper bags filled with fresh picked produce. With six kids, she bought peaches and apples by the bushel, transporting them home in baskets woven from wooden splints held together with twists of wire.
Visiting the farm stand with her, we stood barefooted on the cool cement, reaching over to touch forbidden fingers to the harvest—green beans, fresh peas we’d be conscripted to shell later, earth covered radishes and carrots, misshapen tomatoes, corn piled into tilted wooden bins. The owner reached for mom’s selection of vegetables with dirty fingers, placing them on the hanging farm scale where the needle jiggled up and down before coming to rest on a weight. This is what I pictured as we planned our apple picking outing—I remembered the directions to the farm by heart. We arrived easily to the same location, but nowhere near the right place.
Again, cars and people flooded the property. The ramshackle shed that I recalled had been replaced by a cement-block building selling gourmet preserves and ice cream—arrows pointed to expansive parking lots—from there signs directed us to a barn where we were required to purchase a bag for a flat fee. We’d be charged later by the pound for the apples we picked. My husband and I looked at each other, aghast at the exploitation of what we had previously experienced as a simple autumn outing. Cognizant of our daughter’s expectations though, we dutifully strolled out to the apple trees—where we encountered the proverbial last straw. Signs lining each row of trees stated: “Eating apples is stealing.”
We never apple picked in Massachusetts again.
In spite of the disappointment we experienced close to home, apple picking remains a favorite activity for our family, so when a trip to Newport was cancelled this weekend, we sent a hopeful email and gratefully scampered up the highway to Maine for an overnight visit and a trip to the orchard.
Driving 45 minutes north from my husband’s brother’s house, we lurched into the muddy driveway beside a white farmhouse expanded by a screened porch tailored along one side. A smiling woman greeted us, selling us bags that she welcomed us to fill as full as possible while offering us directions: “Macintosh, Delicious and Gala are up the road to the left. Cortlands, Macouns and Spencers are down to the right. Stay as long as you like and enjoy yourself.”
Squishing though raised tire marks and mud, we reached trees bent like old woman under burdens of ripe fruit and rubbing apples on our sweatshirts, bit in and savored tart juice--sour at the back of our mouths, flesh puckering and sweet in front. Wandering up and down aisles of weighted trees, we picked one or two apples, wandered to another grove, picked a few more. Still, it took only twenty minutes to fill two bags. An afternoon activity to a two-year-old occurs at warp speed when that child is a teenager.
We encountered only one other family while apple picking. The sun stippled in and out between the scuttling clouds forming on the canvas of the day; maples towered crimson and orange above the orchard. The crop was so abundant we laughed as we slid and tripped on the tumbled fruit beneath.
Today, gazing at our stash of apples and remarking on how good they taste, our sixteen-year-old announced: “It goes by way too fast.”
Imagine that. There weren't even any apple cider donuts.