Fall means apples and so much more
My husband arrived home one evening during the first week in September after a stop at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. He raised his arm in triumph, clutching the handle of a small brown paper bag filled with Macintosh apples and bearing the stamp of Shoreham’s Champlain Orchards.
“Vermont apples are back!” he announced joyfully.
This is one of the hallmarks of the changing seasons: We know summer is giving way to fall when we no longer have to purchase plastic bags of apples shipped in from the West Coast.
That our family marks the seasons partly by the availability of local apples says something about our eating habits, in which apples loom large.
My daughters are still too small and picky to push us into the league of some large families we know — particularly those with teenagers — who consume gallons of milk daily and spend thousands on groceries each month. But apples are the one food all of my daughters agree upon, so we do go through a staggering number of apples every week.
Our typical practice is to eat those apples sliced — a practice my husband developed to cut down on apple waste, such as when a daughter asks for a “big” apple, takes three bites, and then leaves it sitting on the Lego table for 24 hours. A bowl of sliced apples, served plain or with a side of peanut butter or sliced cheddar cheese, tends to insure that what’s taken is fully consumed.
Whether big or sliced, when I crunch the numbers I estimate that our family goes through at least 6-8 apples daily. Which explains why our refrigerator’s fruit drawer is usually full-to-groaning with apples.
In an effort to address this apple consumption, we planted five heritage apple trees in our backyard last spring. To keep our costs low, we purchased rootstock instead of older trees; now, almost six months later, our apple trees stand about as tall as me (not very tall), and have sprouted several branches. We expect them to begin producing fruit in three years or so.
Side note: Time and patience seem to be the rule when it comes to growing one’s own fruit. My blueberry bushes, planted two years ago, continue to yield only a handful of berries every summer despite my vigilant care. When I inquire about other blueberry bushes that I see — bushes that produce vast quantities of fruit despite apparent neglect — the answer is almost always, “Oh, those bushes are over 20 years old now.”
While we wait for our own apple trees to reward us with fruit, we delight in the advent of our local apple season, which stretches from approximately early September until Thanksgiving, depending on the year.
The benefits of local apples are freshness (of course), and variety. I’m not much of a Macintosh or Granny Smith girl, so once the local apples come in I luxuriate in the dizzying array of options: Paula Red, Ginger Gold, Empire, Macoun, Honey Crisp, and more.
And then there’s the personal component: the pleasure that comes from supporting the labor of people you know. They know us at our closest local orchard, Happy Valley, so when our family arrived on opening day this year we were greeted with exclamations over how much our girls had grown since last year, and inquiries after my parents. “Well, it’s really apple season now that you’re here!” we were told.
Similarly, we know the owners of Champlain Orchards, whose children attend preschool and homeschool alongside our own, and who are very generous about donating apples to my daughter’s preschool. When we buy their apples at the orchard or the co-op, we know that we’re supporting a lovely family. There’s no comparison between this sort of relationship with our food producers, and the anonymous airlifted apples in plastic that we’re forced to buy in the winter.
It may be that its fleeting nature is part of what makes apple season so special. But then, the more I think about fall, the more I realize that the entire season is a brief flash of beauty before saying goodbye.
Consider the geese. One of the great delights of moving into our house last year was realizing, come fall, that we are located right under a major Canada geese flyway. All fall, regal, honking Vs of geese pass overhead, creating stunning scenes like the one I witnessed the other morning when my daughter and I went out at 6 a.m. to feed our poultry: The sun was rising and staining the eastern clouds red while the moon still hung in the deep blue western sky, when a flock of geese flew directly over us. We waved them south as they passed beneath the moon, saying goodbye for another season.
Similarly, the two monarch caterpillars that my daughters found in our field will leave us soon. We put them in a tank and fed them milkweed until they wove the surprisingly strong filaments to anchor themselves to a surface (one attached to a leaf, one to the side of the tank), shed their skin, and encased themselves in green-and-gold chrysalises. In just a few days, if all goes well inside, they’ll emerge as monarch butterflies. Then, we’ll release them so that they can begin their long migration down to Mexico. As with the geese, we’ll wave goodbye and wish them well.
And what is Vermont’s celebrated autumn foliage, if not another goodbye — the ultimate blaze of glory before the fall?
The interesting thing is that fall — this season of many goodbyes — doesn’t seem to invoke sadness in many people. On the contrary, an informal poll of family and friends reveals that many cite fall as their favorite season. They feel that fall carries with it the sense of a fresh start. How can this be? How are we able to do in fall what we struggle to do in the rest of life: To be present in the moment? To relish the apples without weeping over the harvest’s end? To gasp over the beauty of the geese, the monarch butterflies, and the foliage without mourning their departure?
Being present in the present is not easy for us humans. As Wendell Berry wrote in his 2015 essay collection, “Our Only World”:
There is in fact much at hand and in reach that is good, useful, encouraging, and full of promise, although we seem less and less inclined to attend to or value what is at hand. We are always ready to set aside our present life, even our present happiness, to peruse the menu of future exterminations. If the future is threatened by the present, which it undoubtedly is, then the present is more threatened, and often is annihilated, by the future.
“Oh, oh, oh,” cry the funerary experts, looking ahead through their black veils. “Life as we know it soon will end. If the governments don’t stop us, we’re going to destroy the world. The time is coming when we will have to do something to save the world. The time is coming when it will be too late to save the world. Oh, oh, oh.”
If that is the way our minds are afflicted, we and our world are dead already. The present is going by and we are not in it.
— — —
Perhaps, as we revel in fall, we can learn something about appreciating the present goodness throughout the year.
Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, assorted chickens and ducks, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.
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