From northwest-facing windows beyond my computer monitor, only one tree remains totally green. An orange maple is flanked by other yellow-tipped maples and shrubs, and a couple leafless locusts. There is some yellow and orange visible through the windows to my right, but most of those trees shed their vivid leaves when beaten by rain or wind in the past week. Autumn color is so briefly brilliant.
One afternoon a month ago today, when leaves were just beginning to turn, I altered the direction of my usual daily walk in order to check apple trees about a half mile from our house. The old trees remain from what must have been an orchard covering many acres in our rural area. The man who owns several acres across the road from his house isn’t interested in picking the fruit and lets us take as much as we want from a half dozen trees near a pond. Since the trees haven’t been pruned or otherwise cared for in decades, they are tall and tangled and we harvest mostly from the ground. Usually the fruit is knobby but some years the apples are virtually unblemished, and plentiful, too.
Hanging over a driveway is a tree with small bright red fruits that we find broken on the crushed rock. If we manage to reach a few ripe apples before they fall, they are worth the stretch. The rest of the apple trees are on the other side of a storage building. The earliest-producing tree yields large, juicy, early soft apples that are not only good eating but also make delicious sauce and baked goods. From mid-August through September, apples sprawl all over the ground near the tree. I stop by every day or two and pick up a bag full of the best. If I wait too long between stops, deer or geese have bit into most of the fruit. On the southerly, pond, side of that tree is a crab apple that has yielded snack-size fruit only a few years of the eight we’ve been gathering apples. To the east are a couple fall-producing trees with yellow apples that are usually afflicted with one problem or another. To the north and closest to the road is a very late variety that drops green fruit while we’re picking up the early apples. Further up the road about 200 feet is a tree with long-keeping apples that turn deep red in October. When we can collect early apples, some yellow apples, and late fruits during their over-lapping seasons, the combination makes delicious apple juice.
When I took my walk that lovely late-September afternoon, all my senses were engaged by the maturing natural world. If you use your imagination, you can accompany me and enjoy again the transition time of summer turning to autumn. . .
We’ve left the house and already feel the sun warm our skin. Soon we are walking past woods where leaves, bark, and hemlock needles decomposing on the ground give off a pleasant “woodsy” fragrance. Emerging fall colors catch the eye: Along the margins of the woods, goldenrod is in full bloom and the first wild purple asters are opening. Just beyond, the woods open out to an expanse of mowed grass surrounding a pond. Trees on the other side of the pond are still mostly green, although some are tinged with orange and yellow. The calm pond surface mirrors the trees, a few clouds, and blue sky.
As we walk toward the water, we can hear a gentle lapping at the shore. Walking along the shore we hear the water’s quiet movement punctuated by the soft “plop” of unseen creatures springing away from the edge. Something breaks the surface a few feet from shore and moves further out. Getting down on our haunches to inspect the water’s edge, we see tadpoles darting between masses of duckweed. Suddenly, a large red-tinged grass carp swims into the shallow water to sun-bathe or find a vegetative meal.
Now that we’ve traversed most of the length of the pond and passed the storage building, we turn and walk up the grassy slope to the cluster of apple trees. There is no fruit on the crab tree, nor on the early tree. There are no yellow apples nor any fruit on the ground. The only apples we can see are one of the late varieties. They are still green, barely blushing, high in the tree, and not plentiful. We’re disappointed but not surprised, as warm late winter weather sped up spring blossoms which were vulnerable to spring frosts.
This isn’t an autumn for harvesting apples, but it gives us lovely days to walk, doesn’t it?