apple stories

10 10 2004

i suppose i’ve always been fond of apples. my mother used to brag that, as children, my brother and i were so dazzled by simple pleasures that we delighted to find apples and oranges in our christmas stockings. they’re wonderful things-—maybe the best of all things—-to build a pie around. mercedes lackey, if i can delve into a fantasy realm at least as real to me as any number of other world-views (chemistry?!) i’m expected to believe in, whose characters take mind-speech for granted, describes laughter when it springs from mind-to-mind as “apple-flavored”; i read that first at least 15 years ago and have carried it with me everywhere i’ve been since. they travel nicely, and are both robustly colorful and contrastively white-crisp-pure all at once; they’re also, of course, deeply & resonantly mythological. snow white springs to mind even faster than snake-befriending eve, and resisting the temptation to start digging into the implications of overlapping those stories is almost impossible…

so i have two apple stories to tell, one (1) thoroughly mundane & charming (look mom, we can have fun in central new york!), the other (2) far more esoteric, rambling, & perhaps ridiculous. it’s a choose-your-own-adventure book: read one, or both in either order, or neither. if you’re of a mind to hold either sentimentality (1) or fancy (2) against me, choose accordingly.

(1) this morning we–pdxstraycat and i and chris and jeremiah–drove down to lafayette for their annual apple festival! an outing! with others! out! we were so proud of ourselves it was probably annoying, but the company didn’t complain. pdxstraycat and jeremiah and i were late (this is what happens when you try to shortcut across the nation, where roads aren’t labeled, when you think you know where you’re going but you don’t) & so spent the first half-hour of the festival trying to find chris—although we did this try-to-finding with a warm cup of mulled cider and a shared cardboard tray of crisp, hot apple fritters, so don’t think it was a hardship.
then, found, we checked out the winners of the previous day’s scarecrow contest (i expect to see some of the creepy runners-up—especially the one whose clothes had somehow slid into an amorphous lump & whose similarly lumpy face, instead of features, had a photograph of the face of someone’s child safety-pinned to the blank white cloth). we looped past the carnival rides, and the “sketchiest attraction of all time” (i’ll let pdxstraycat explain), and the hip-hop blasting toboggan ride, and the bored kids trying to cajole us into wasting dollars to throw things for prizes no one needed (although the boys were very almost swayed by the promise of a stuffed monkey in a warm-up suit—”he has a safety whistle,” jeremiah observed, “in case he’s attacked!”). we wandered through a few stuffy craft tents (one has to wonder who buys all those kitschy painted wooden snowmen), stroked some hand made pottery appreciatively, coveting a few perfect christmas presents we couldn’t afford. we perused displays of homemade cheese and ski-dos, wooden furniture and doll-clothes promised to “fit cabbage patch” (is this really still a concern?). jeremiah paid a dollar to hold a puppy, which is the smartest festival-day money-making activity i’ve ever seen a rescue organization participate in (and it’s all good & clean, too—they don’t allow spontaneous adoptions & only had already-promised puppies with them, so no one was tempted to have to take one home); clusters of shivering festival-goers, glazed-eyed from crowd-dodging and sugared treats gathered to pay their dollar and have two minutes of standing quietly with an arm full of warm, sleepy puppy. jeremiah got his arms around a half-malamut still smaller than kassala & for a few soft minutes completely forgot to be sharp-witted and clever.
we made an effort at half-decent lunch—of the meat &/or potatoes variety—which pdxstraycat of course had to follow with a “dessert” apple turnover, and then we went to the shop near the front gates where one can buy just-picked apples by the bagful, and cups of hot cider, and jugs of cold cider (we did all of that), and where also there’s a cider mill in operation—operation being the turning of one crank at a time by the friendly gentleman who owns the place or any would-be participants who step up for a turn. the cider that comes out of the press—once all the steps of pressing are done—is at most ten minutes removed from having been an apple, and is the best honey-sweet, apple-y goodness i’ve ever encountered. i swiped at least three free samples, which i would have felt bad about, had the last two not been after the man at the press explained about the health codes & the lawyers & how they weren’t allowed to sell the cider they made with the press he’d bought from a friend’s farm & had refurbished by blacksmiths to make parts that fit it because it was a mid 1800s machine without replacement parts available—but there were no laws against giving it away. he also told us, casually, when we inquired as to whether or not apple-picking would still be an option next week, as our hands were quickly approaching too-numb-to-move, that we probably had “two weeks or so. should be. ’cause once the snows come…” so there’s a timeline to spur us on; if last year’s any indication, he’s to be trusted. chris bobbed up and down with the crank in her bright purple jacket looking for all in the world like one of the seven dwarves—i expected to hear a good hi-ho—and punk-rock-boy threw himself so into the task he ended up with little bits of apple-shrapnel in his hair… except when he was gently providing the extra strength to help a very wee lad named william have a go.
by the time we were bored of the cider mill even those of us who’d worn sweaters under our capes and jackets were freezing (i remarked to jeremiah that if we had to have winters, apple festivals seemed like an appropriate first day of their ominous foreshadowing; he seemed less than convinced), and homework, as usual, called, so we made some final purchases and set out to trek back home. pdxstraycat led our car’s passengers back to our parking spot through an un-harvested orchard row, and i couldn’t resist pulling a couple of tasty gems—empires, i believe—from the over-full trees as we passed between them. i gave one a good spit-shine, and we shared it on the dart back up 81. the other one’s with the bag we bought, trying to be virtuous and make it into next week’s school lunches, plotting maniacally to instead inspire a pie.

(2) i walked down to the park the other day in search of blackbirds, but they’ve gone. the geese and mallards hardly nodded as i passed them by. it was an introspective walk, and a long one, and rich with imagery and texture—i took the camera, and will be posting photos (when dreamweaver gets over itself). they do nothing to convey the sounds of grasshoppers thumping and whirring out from under your every step, of insect-song surrounding you and rising like water up over your head, of aspen leaves clattering frantically against each other or the way they spark and shimmer-dance in the sharp almost-wintering light. i took pictures of sunlight on & through neon leaves, of the seed-husks of already-forgotten flowers, of the rich bounty of harvest-time berries clustered heavy on thin, green bending branches.
i followed the smaller path into the woods, branching randomly along its meanders, sighting leaves and clusters through the viewfinder, watching the sunlight change implication when caught in different-colored nets. and lying in a soft, colorless pool of the stuff, in the dry-earth middle of my wooded path, i found an apple. i picked it up, turned it over, weighed it in my hands. it had the density one would expect of “apple,” the appropriate scent, a pleasant yellow-green-to-pinkish slightly-freckled coloring, a puckered bud on one end and a dainty, perfect stem protruding from the other. it was also roughly half the size of my thumb. because i’m who i am, i bit gingerly into it—not because i expected bitterness, but because it was very tiny, after all—and found it a little dry but altogether apple-ish, & i’d been just thinking it was time to head home as i was getting hungry. the boon was fortuitous.
pleased, i took tiny, nibbling bites as i looked around idly—and then with more intensity—and then downright _searched_–for the tree it had come from. i was initially hoping for a photograph to group with the pictures of berries. then i wanted some sort of correlation between the forces of gravity, the logic of proximity, and the apple in my hand. neither goal was met. there wasn’t any tree. or, rather, there was a whole dense _wood_ of trees, but none of them bore fruit. at such a point, even the most pragmatic of souls would be tempted to personify. _someone_ must have put—or at the very least dropped—the apple here, since at least according to known physical laws, it hadn’t put itself. there were no someones handy, however, just a sunbeam lighting the dust where the apple had been. i revised “boon” and wrote in “gift” instead, nibbling the rest of the flesh from the tiny fruit, and bursting with my thumbnails the seeds from their brittle casing. there were seven, although i didn’t count them at the time, just set about doing with them the only thing that made sense to do.
i buried two of them together with the uneaten ends of the apple in the sunbeam i’d pulled it from, just off the path. i buried two more—planted—in the next sunny spot i came across, and another two in the next spot after that, digging with a new stick each time & leaving it where i’d found it. the last pair’s spot was drier than the others, its dirt almost fluffy, and when i spit in the hole to dampen the earth enough to tamp, i wondered if i shouldn’t have done likewise with the others, adding something of mine to the soil, but i didn’t go back. the seventh seed i carried home with me, and added it to my pouch, and wore it to today’s festival, just for the concordance of it.
i wondered, of course. you can’t help but wonder.
two days later i was back at the park, keeping to the main trail this time, & on the pond’s far side, on a patch of trail i’d watched from a distance several dogs with joggers pelt through but which nobody shared with me when i went by, i found another apple, if that’s what you call it when it’s sitting prominently in your path. this one was smaller, rounder, less aptly shaped, a deep, warning red. i split the skin with my thumbnail and tasted what i uncovered; it was almost tasteless, a little bitter, the flesh pink all the way through instead of white. all in all, it sent, if sent it was, a very different message. i gave the nearest patch of (apple-free) trees a measuring look, and flung the orb back in, sure titania—or somebody—was laughing, and with no way of knowing whether that laugh was mockery or adulation.

we spent the afternoon practicing for the season to come; we made our first fire since last spring, pdxstraycat made a tasty pot of soup, and we curled up with academic work and student papers. my hair smells delightfully of woodsmoke. & on a final “points for closure” note: festivals at least (i won’t speculate about the rest) have set entrance-fees (only a small one, this time) & hand-stamping is a traditional accompaniment, so i have a red apple stamped on my hand. the day’s real victory will come if i wake up tomorrow without a red apple stamped on my face.




2 responses

10 10 2004

what lovely stories – both of them! i want to do things that involve apples! i wonder if i only have two weeks left here in ct…

15 10 2004

let’s hope not!
we’re supposed to be going picking right now currently, but it’s rainy & chilly & promises to just keep insisting on grey & more grey, so we’re failing to find the motivation… >sigh< we'll be sorry, later.

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