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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.