Friday, September 23, 2016

Apples of my eye #phenology

Apple season isn't simply a time for picking apples, as we all know. It's also time for pressing apples and drinking apple cider; time for dipping and eating caramel coated apples; around Halloween, time for bobbing for apples. Do people/kids still do that? (Personally, I haven't for half a century or so.) Time for baking apple pies and for baked apples with brown sugar. It wouldn't surprise me to learn I'm actually part bear, the way I like to load up on calories during apple season so I can read during much of the Winter while hibernating in my "den" in the kitchen or near the pantry. Although before we get to that time of year, the traditionalist New Englander in me, raised on Cortland and McIntosh apples, is grateful to the University of Minnesota Extension for the work they've done creating luscious new cold tolerant apple varieties.

Minnesota apples for Autumn
Minnesota apples for Autumn
Photo by J. Harrington

Jim Gilbert, one of Minnesota's renowned naturalists, tells us that juncos may begin to arrive next week. Since the Better Half and I are headed to our North Country for a few days next week, we may cross paths with some as they head South while we do the opposite. A few years ago, and yet later in the season, we had a trip up the Arrowhead brightened as we encountered snow buntings along the North Shore of Lake Superior. That was a surprise, as is the prospect of seeing juncos, which I always consider a Winter bird, near the beginning of "apple season." In fact, with the weather pattern we've had this year, I don't really expect to see juncos much before Halloween, if then.

snow bunting without snow
snow bunting without snow
Photo by J. Harrington

So, here are some of the ways Autumn in the North Country becomes a feast for the senses:

  • The color change of the leaves pleases our eyes.
  • Apples and pumpkins and the spices and caramel and all that go with them treat our taste buds.
  • Whistling wings of waterfowl and whispers of wind-driven snow flakes alert our hearing to the constant shifting of this too short season.
  • Flannel shirts and warm socks and heavier blankets at night treat our sense of touch.
  • We've lost the smell of burning leaves but still have the fecund aroma of dank, dark duff if we slow down enough during our leaf-peeping. If that's missed, we hope there's at least the scent of roasting turkey at Thanksgiving. Speaking of which, there's about two months between now and Thanksgiving.
To improve your sense of self worth (sort of like a sixth sense), you could spend some time each of the next eight weeks tallying up what you have to be thankful for and some additional time sharing whatever wealth you have with those who have less. Done properly, the Autumn season can out-do the Christmas season with reasons to be joyous and deck the halls, don'cha think?

Apples

Rain hazes a street cart’s green umbrella
but not its apples, heaped in paper cartons,
dry under cling film. The apple man,

who shirrs his mouth as though eating tart fruit,
exhibits four like racehorses at auction:
Blacktwig, Holland, Crimson King, Salome.

I tried one and its cold grain jolted memory:
a hill where meager apples fell so bruised
that locals wondered why we scooped them up,

my friend and I, in matching navy blazers.
One bite and I heard her laughter toll,
free as school’s out, her face flushed in late sun.

I asked the apple merchant for another,
jaunty as Cezanne’s still-life reds and yellows,
having more life than stillness, telling us,

uncut, unpeeled, they are not for the feast
but for themselves, and building strength to fly
at any moment, leap from a skewed bowl,

whirl in the air, and roll off a tilted table.
Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies,
let a loose apple teach me how to spin

at random, burn in light and rave in shadows.
Bring me a Winesap like the one Eve tasted,
savored and shared, and asked for more.

No fool, she knew that beauty strikes just once,
hard, never in comfort. For that bitter fruit,
tasting of earth and song, I’d risk exile.

The air is bland here. I would forfeit mist
for hail, put on a robe of dandelions,
and run out, broken, to weep and curse — for joy.


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