Sunday, October 05, 2008

Apple Picking Run Amok

We had a lot to do yesterday and Saturday just seemed to get out from under us. One minute it was 6AM, next thing I knew it was 6PM. But in between these two times we did manage to get out into the countryside, on a beautiful fall day, find our way to an apple farm and pick some apples with my kid, the kids next door and their mom who pushed the initiative even more than I did. I'm glad she did.

Reasonably, she said, "if we don't do it now, we'll miss the chance completely." Boston winter works that way. You can have a warm sunny fall day one day, and bingo -- snow the next. It was a gorgeous October fall Saturday. The urge to drag the kids out the door was brewing. Were we falling into that dangerous parental pitfall, the insistence on having weekend "family fun?"

But there was homework to do first on Saturday morning -- math problems about one person running towards another at 16 ft/second and the other running 14 ft/second, they were called Romeo and Juliet -- and they had 270 feet to cover. The math-endowed members of this household (not me) enjoyed the problem very much, getting all nostalgic about the classic version where two trains are leaving the station at some time, then passing in the night.

I'm no math major and had to cry foul about this Romeo and Juliet nonsense. It was downright insulting to suggest Romeo and Juliet would ever run around at breakneck speed at all -- an unlikely scenario from the play I remember, any such enterprise was obviously lacking in Shakespearean finesse. I insisted on having my college English Major's last word, "when it comes to Romeo and Juliet, she knows how to stand still (or hang out on balconies) and make him do all the running after her, I thought."

I continued annoying the math majors, MIT alums and assorted geeks who were present, "why not put a real problem together -- trying to measure the distance from his place in the dirt down on the ground, up to her lofty balcony -- always keeping in mind the speed with which approaching parental figures might arrive to interrupt them." The math folks didn't want anything to do with the real Romeo and Juliet -- emotional data being too unpredictable and whimsical for them. To muddy the waters and make them regret all their rational thought on the subject, I insisted they show me the passages in Romeo & Juliet where the lovers take trains to distant Italian cities. It did not happen that way.

Anyway, once the homework was done, there was lunch to eat, a few errands to run, and we headed off to the apple orchards -- with about 8000 other people it ended up. This was no small farm, let me mention, it was quite a big operation and packed with families, being dragged around on butt-banging hay wagons full of whiny children. Just the parking was enough to wear you out -- you and hundreds of other cars jammed in like a busy day at Disneyland or your basic suburban minivan car lot -- sheesh!

In all due respect, with a blogger's code of honor in mind, I will NOT mention the name of the farm or link to them because I thought the place was essentially a RIP-OFF and I try to link and connect to places I like, leaving the others to suffer in non-linky silence.

So when we got there and didn't yet know the routine, we stood in line with ... probably hundreds of people to pay $20 for a plastic bag (1/2 the size of a shopping bag) figuring we can easily fill this up, get some cider, pet a goat or two and call it a lovely Fall crisp autumnal outing. Ha! That wasn't how it turned out.

I don't know much about apples, except what I read in Cider House Rules, but these trees were already picked bare. We dispersed to the orchards to find the trees nearly empty, or burdened with trompe l'oeil apples which looked pretty from one side and were full of worms and holes from the other. Nasty surprise to grab a handful of. It looked ominous. The kids grew dispirited -- would we even be able to bring home enough apples to bake a lousy little pie?

And did I mention, the place was packed? And can I paint you a picture of what some "keep up with the Jones" super-competitive Saturday afternoon SUV-driving suburban moms and dads let loose in an orchard with very limited apples looks like -- it's a scary scene. Grown men were grabbing the last few promising apples out of the reach of little tikes -- no happy day on the farm, believe me. My mom friend said, "Golly, what's this, the APPLE MALL?!?!," when the hoards of people started to really crowd us. Quiet and pastoral, friendly, folksy and farmy ... it wasn't.

So within a half hour we realized this was a full-out Apple World War and the game was split-second Apple Triage, sorting the dead from the just-barely-making-it fruit, scoring a few for your family and it was every man for himself. It was a little haunting ... was this suggestive of life after the Wall Street meltdown? Would shopping at the supermarket start to take on this frenzy?

After this year of watching the economy fall apart, and spending many a cup of coffee talking with friends and family, some working and some not, worrying about what we're headed for, I had to wonder yesterday, were these weekend warriors confusing their apple-picking strategies with ferocious job-hunting tactics?!? One dad ran by with a wooden ladder and family in tow, as the closing time approached, not to be left behind with the rest of us mere mortals who were picking from the ground. He was starting right at the top of the tree, his family positioned below as he rained apples down on them. Little Johnny wasn't watching and got bopped in the head with a Cortland. Dad cried, "Keep your eye on the ball!" He'd come to terms with the obvious fact that in this marketplace, there was no low-hanging fruit, and he wasn't leaving anything to chance. Family fun, they call it.

Certain orchards were sectioned off with yellow ropes. There were signs ... what did they say ... I forgot to read them as I stepped over the rope. Something like KEEP OUT. A temptation to say the least. A veritable Garden of Eden those particular orchards, with trees full of actually nice whole fruit, none of these reject wormy half-grown apples we were supposed to be gathering. Okay, okay, I know I wasn't supposed to pick fruit from those trees, but honestly I'd paid good money believing I'd get a crack at some quality apples. I only grabbed a few apples and one perfect pear, and ... you know ... everyone else was doing it anyway!

So now, back home, on my kitchen windowsill sit 20 red apples and one deeply tanned pear. I like the stems full of bushy green leaves, something you don't get with perfect store-bought apples. We fought hard for this fruit! (And kindof stole some of the best ones.) The ingredients for Apple Crisp are on the kitchen counter; brown sugar, flour, butter. It's Sunday morning and we'll come back after church to bake pies and crisp, still hunting that elusive family fun in a more relaxed domain. I think we might even find some.

Photo Credit: Zach Klein on Flickr -- this guy is great. Look at all his pictures, you'll love them.