Apple Picking in a Pandemic

It feels like a fact of life that if you grew up anywhere near an orchard someone took you apple picking at least once as a child. My own childhood apple picking memories are not my favorite. Us kids were grumpy about getting up super early, usually there was at least one dramatic squabble, and we always wound up coming home with what felt like Way Too Many Apples. Oh, and as the morning progressed and warmed up So Many Bees would terrorize the orchard seeking the sweet juice of apples that had fallen on the ground.

I believe these are Jonagolds, a variety of apple that I didn’t know existed before this trip.

So it’s probably not surprising that as an adult I’ve largely had an aversion to apple picking and have turned down several invitations from my friends over the years. The only time I said yes the weather was terrible and we drove all the way out to the orchard only to decide it was too awful out to go apple picking, so we wound up exploring the downtown of a nearby town instead. But this fall when I received an apple picking invite I jumped at it because I was quite desperate to see my friends. Because of covid and the United States’ awful response to it I haven’t spent any time with my friends since March. We’ve been keeping in touch, but it’s not really the same as being able to hang out together in person.

Many of the rows of apple trees led up to this area of mostly leafless trees that were spread out in such a circular way that I joked it looked like a ritual would be done there, lol. My plant-loving mom thinks they’re cherry trees.

It was an exciting moment when we realized that apple picking was a viable option for a socially distanced hangout activity and we quickly arranged a date. The date happened to coincide with my mom being away at her little house in upstate New York, so I invited everyone to come hang out in my backyard afterwards. It -also- happened to be our friend B’s birthday that weekend, so he planned a whole menu of food and entertainment for our little group of six.

Our group setting off an an apple adventure!

And before you cry “social distancing!” we played this gathering really safe. We generally kept a good distance between ourselves (there was no hugging, even though we really wanted to!) and except for eating, which we did sitting apart from each other, we all wore masks the whole time. There was also liberal use of hand sanitizer and hand washing. Everyone had their own sanitizer because 2020, but I also set up a little table that I called the Sanitation Station. Perhaps some people would find this gathering a bit risky, but thankfully we and our immediate circles have been covid-free so far, so we decided to go ahead with the gathering.

Sanitation Station set up in the backyard of my house.

The orchard we went to is called Melick Orchard, which is about an hour from where we live, but was well worth the drive, I think. It was a really beautiful morning to be outside, sunny and just a little warm, and we took a lot of pleasure just from being outside and being together in person instead of over video chat. We made a reservation for 9:30 a.m., which turned out to be a very good choice because by the time we left about an hour and a half later the amount of people around was starting to increase dramatically. It wasn’t quite so many people that social distancing was impossible, but it was starting to perhaps be a little more crowded by the entry areas/little store than we were comfortable with. But out in the orchard there is a lot of space and there are many varieties of apples in long, wide rows. Each type of apples was available in multiple rows so if, for instance, we saw a family taking up a lot of space in one of the rows we could simply choose another one.

If you look closely you can see cows at the farm across the road, which we were very excited to see.

There was also a pumpkin patch in the back corner of the property, in a corner at the end of the apple area, but it looked a little sad and picked over, and none of use were super interested in pumpkins anyway, so we didn’t peruse it at all. Plus I doubted that any of us really wanted to lug a pumpkin over the considerable distance back to the entry area. Melick Orchards also has pick your own fruit during other seasons and on our way back to the front of the property we passed some rows of peach trees that I thought had a certain magical charm.

One of the enchanting rows of peach trees.

Once we paid for our apples we piled back into our cars and drove to my house where we quickly set up a production area for preparing apples for pie, under B’s supervision. Somehow we wound up with an obscene amount of apples cut up! Luckily B had accidentally bought four bottom crusts instead of just two (but only two top crusts). However, even after filling all of the crusts and improvising tops for all of them there were still So Many Apples left. (Don’t worry, the leftovers went home with party guests and did not go to waste!)

This is what we had left -after- I filled the four pie shells. I’m not sure how this happened.

Our original plan was to stay outside and rig up a TV on my family’s picnic table to play an obscure Wii game called Fortune Street that B wanted to show us, but just when I thought this apple picking day would be devoid of bees since we hadn’t seen any at the orchard, we were driven inside by them because one of our group is allergic. My house fortunately has a good amount of room for sitting spaced out, and we opened all the windows and doors so there would be good safe ventilation while we settled in to play.

I turned my back for one second and of course one of the pies suddenly had something lewd cut into it, lol.

Fortune Street is a game that’s kind of like a cross between Mario Party and Monopoly, but there’s a stock market? And all kinds of weird business types? I don’t know, I only got the vaguest sense of it because I didn’t play. Instead, I was fussing about with the pies, trying to make use of the Too Many Apples that had been prepared as I mentioned above. I didn’t mind missing out on Fortune Street, because to be honest, it seemed really confusing. Apart from B, who really really loves the game, my other friends who were playing seemed to be enjoying the experience of playing together more than they enjoyed the actual gameplay itself.

I don’t have any photos from this part of the day, so here’s a dried up cornfield at the orchard that I thought was pretty!

Fortune Street took so long that we were losing daylight fast by the time it was done. So B heated up the spaghetti squash he brought us to have for dinner (and I boiled some spaghetti for those who didn’t want the squash), and we ate in my quickly darkening backyard. By the time we were done it was getting too dark to be out in my unlit backyard so instead of eating pie together we split them up and everyone went on their merry way. Instead of hugging goodbye like we would have in the Before Times we all took turns clunking ankles with each other, which my friend L came up with earlier this year as as a weird, slightly cursed covid handshake.

My friend S looking determinedly for apples that sparked joy.

It was really nice to see everyone, but equally unpleasant to say goodbye. The sadness I felt immediately after everyone left me alone in my house almost made me wish we hadn’t met up at all. It felt a bit cruel of the universe to let me have a taste of the time with friends I should have been getting to indulge in all year, only to have to swiftly return to the interminable question — “When will I get to spend time like this with them again?” Don’t get me wrong, I had an extremely lovely day and I’m very glad we were able to have our little gathering, our beautiful warm golden autumn day. But in the immediate aftermath the silence of my house was very loud and very lonely.

A family photo. ^_^

I hate to end this post about a happy day on a downer, but also I prefer to be honest about my feelings and I just miss my friends so damn much! So our day of apple picking turned out a bit bittersweet for me in the end. But I definitely don’t regret doing it, and wish I could live it again now as the cold, dark part of the year creeps over my area and makes me feel pandemic loneliness even more strongly than I did before.

A bin of pumpkins for sale near the orchard entrance that was simultaneously reassuring and disconcerting. “It’s Harvest Time…try”

Putting Pen to Page (or How I Write Best)

In September and October I missed posting blogs again and somehow that makes me feel like trash. It shouldn’t. I’m the only one who cares. One post a month was a self-imposed goal I set at the start of the year, a desperate attempt to introduce a little discipline into my meandering life of picked up and dropped hobbies. I like writing. I’m constantly creating stories and even portions of potential blog posts in my head. And yet somehow I have now for the third time this year missed posting. At least in July I had a good excuse. I was in a car accident in the last third of the month that wound up totaling my vehicle and I was too stressed dealing with the fallout from that to even consider trying to post anything. But for September and October I have no such excuse besides the fact that every time I set up at my laptop to try and put something together the words only reluctantly, awkwardly come out. It’s a fight every time.

The handwritten draft of this post.

Most nights I get home from work and wind up doing nothing more productive than, say, taking a shower or watering my pumpkins in Animal Crossing. For nearly two months this summer I played Red Dead Online every day, saving up imaginary gold to buy an imaginary horse, putting off doing anything in the real world that might improve me in some way like playing one of the instruments I own again, doing one of the crafts I keep meaning to do, or yes, writing down any of the things I have in my head, even if they’re not destined to be read by anyone who isn’t me.

Starting in middle school and continuing up through my college graduation at the end of 2012 I filled multiple notebooks with scrawled stories. Yes they are largely messes that no one should ever read (and my handwriting is such that they’d have trouble trying anyway), but I had fun writing it all down. Even now connecting a pen to paper is the most natural way for me to write and that is the only reason this post exists at all. I pulled myself out of the well of self loathing and guilt I fall into when I know I could be doing something productive instead of looping between the same three or four apps on my phone by hauling myself to my desk and grabbing a notebook and pen, breaking the nightly cycle that I somehow so often find unbreakable.

One of my high school notebooks from my collaging things phase, edited to hide personal information I’d written on the front.

I know I will clean up and potentially rearrange my thoughts before they’re available for you to read on my blog, but I’m realizing that my brain apparently does not like my inner words to exist outside of my head unless it is in some kind of ink. In about half an hour I wrote so much more than in an equivalent time on the computer and what I wrote sounds better overall. Somehow a pen in my hand opens more creative phrasing pathways in my brain than computer keys under my fingers.

So maybe this is how I’ll have to blog from now on, drafting all of my posts by hand first and then typing them up after. And if that’s what it’s going to take, then fine. Because I set myself a goal, made myself a promise, and if I accomplish nothing else in 2020, at least I’ll be able to look back and see that I wrote, see that I didn’t totally waste all of my time due to my persistent lack of discipline because I made 12 little things. I don’t give a shit if anyone reads any of it. I give a shit about fulfilling a commitment that isn’t strictly required and, for once in what feels like a very long time, following through.