Apples . . . and Apples

Jeannie'sApples2My wife Jean Marie is hankering for an apple, a local apple. “Not too tart,” she says. My go-to is a Mac, a Macintosh. But the apple harvest is upon us. There are eight varieties for sale here at Dutton’s Farm Stand, many unfamiliar to me. And why not learn something, I figure.

The woman at the register can’t help. She calls to the back. “Josh? Can you answer a question about apples?” Josh is an earnest twenty-, maybe thirty-something young man with thick brown hair and a full beard. He is knowledgeable and friendly enough, but he doesn’t smile. Nothing funny about apples.

He tells Jean Marie about each variety. Which is sweet, which less so. Which ones are best for cooking. I’m impressed. I want to test him out on a more controversial topic.

“Seems to me,” I say, “ that there are fewer varieties of apples than there once were. That there are a few ‘corporate’ apples you see in the store. I see Fuji’s of course. Red and Golden Delicious. Granny Smith. Maybe a Gala. Not much else. Some may have vanished altogether. Is that your experience?”

To my surprise, he isn’t immediately up in arms about the losses of great varieties from the past. “We’ve got 25 different apples here,” he says.

“What about Baldwins?” I say. “My last name is Baldwin, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen or tasted a Baldwin.”

“Oh yeah. We’ve got Baldwin’s,” says Josh. “They’re not in yet. Come back in a couple weeks and we’ll have them.”

I am heartened, though not entirely convinced by his optimism. He’s young, and maybe he doesn’t know (although that seems unlikely, given where he works, what he does), and his “Feel the Bern” T-shirt suggests an awareness of things here in Vermont and beyond. But I worry. When Jean Marie asks him if the Fuji’s are local, he says yes. “All these apples are local.” But “grown here” and “originating here” are different. Macintoshs are grown in the Pacific Northwest, too, but they taste nothing like the ones from back here. Different soil, different climate. Seems to me I’ve read about disappearing apples, too. I’m easily discouraged by endangered species of one sort or another. But I don’t get into that. Not today, anyway.

Jean Marie, meanwhile, has decided that she’ll buy several. We’ll have an apple tasting tomorrow. So she picks out four: Macoun, Sansa, Honey Crisp, Zestar. Sounds like a great plan. The names are what intrigue me, of course. I wonder where they all come from. Another day for that, too.

Out on the Deck in Newfane

devon_vermont-6639 copyI’m writing this by starlight.

Well, okay. My laptop has a lighted screen. But above me the stars are so distinct I swear they would be enough to read by.

I’ve just arrived on a wonderfully clear day in mid-September, and in the midst of settling in, I have stopped to go out on the deck where the Adirondack chairs await some maintenance tomorrow. All the way from Boston the new moon, “God’s fingernail” as my wife likes to call it, hung low in the west, guiding me on. Above me now, the moonless sky, filled, and I mean filled, with stars. “The Milky Way” is a familiar phrase, a quaint expression really. Now and again back home, especially if I’m away from houses, I see a little suggestion of it. Here it looks like an interstellar freeway. “Milky” hardly seems an exaggeration.

Then too there are so many more stars than I see at home. I like pointing out constellations, usually to no one in particular. The dog, maybe, on our evening walk. “Look, Luna! There’s Cassiopeia!” It’s easier to see them there, because the brightest stars seem more singular, isolated and defined. Orion is right there, without competition from lesser stars. Here it’s a regular mob of stars, a stellar “Where’s Waldo” overhead. Breathtaking.

The impact of this, after the surprise and delight have diminished, is to realize that we are in fact on a small planet in a very large galaxy in an impossible to fathom universe. It’s a great way to get humble: to see stars this way. I like to think of where I am on Earth—a shoulder of North America, not “flat ground” at all, but projecting out at an angle perpendicular to Earth into this darkness filled with distant light.

The Barred Owl has just spoken. “Who-oo, oo-oot. Who-oo, oo-OOOO.” Not too far away, straight out from me in the dark. He or she is a regular here. Last year I managed a photo with my phone, capturing a distinctive owl shape, not much more. I go online to see better the features that distinguish the Barred from the Great Horned, also common in these woods, and the Barn Owl, less common but distinctive in its screeching call.

Well, I have landed. Greeted by stars and night folk. Vision and sound. How wonderful to be here.

(photo from this past winter—the house at 3 am with stars. Thanks, Bobby Bruderle, Bobby Bruderle Photography)


IMG_1392 - Version 2This is the time of year I get to spend a few days on the property that otherwise is enjoyed by you all—guests from across the country and around the world. I pick a week or so in September. That’s between the very popular summer season and the equally popular leaf season. Usually I get to see the first blush of fall color. Such a treat for someone who grew up back here, but who doesn’t live here anymore.

I savor the shorter days, the low slant of light, seemingly lower each day, the sharp shadows, thinning as the leaves begin to fall. I love the crisper air in the morning—seeing my breath for the first time in months. I hope it will rain. Yes, I live in California, and while the water won’t do any good back home, it will be very good for my soul. Would a late thunderstorm be too much to ask? Probably.

Coming after Labor Day, I do miss some things. Olalliie Daylilies in South Newfane is closed for the season. At Dutton’s Farm Stand, some of the summer veggies are in shorter supply. The soft-serve ice cream stand in my hometown across the border in MA is already shut up for the season. “See you next year!” the sign happily boasts.

But for each of these losses, so many gains. WIthin two weeks when I’m there, the forest goes from summer-green to beginning fall-plaid. Lots of green still in the blend, but the warm autumn colors are there, too—sometimes in spectacular fashion. Sometimes I drive up into the Green Mountains where the higher elevation is like a time machine. Within an hour of the house, I’m at least a week further into fall foliage. Last year I went up to Stratton on a beautiful, (“typical,” my father would have said) New England day. Not so sure about the latter, but this day was fabulous. My wife and I kept pulling over to take photos. Yes, I know, we were being annoying “flatlanders.” But when it’s your childhood you’re recapturing on film, you do what you have to do.

Watching the calendar now. Just another week. Can’t wait.