As summer heat cools and our gardens start to wither, we begin our gradual contraction into the cooler seasons. The return to school and acceleration in our schedules that this time of year brings help shift us out of the daze of summer as we embrace fall. For our family, in which birthdays and anniversaries begin in October and continue monthly through the onset of spring, fall is a time when holidays and celebration begin again after a long spring and summer lull. Beyond these once-a-year celebrations, there are the more regular shifts in what we do, how we live, how we dress, that reflect and remind us of where we are in the year. Traditions add meaning and color to our days, helping us orient within this cycle of seasons, of time.
One tradition that helps me really register the shift to autumn is our trip to the apple orchard. As the weather cools, I start to feel it. Yes, it is almost time to go picking. I check the calendar and reminisce about our previous year's trip. Who came with us? What kind of apples did we pick? What did we do with our harvest? How long did it last? Because if there is anything more autumnal than apples (there isn't), then at the very least those amazing golds, reds and oranges that color the drive to the orchard will fill you to the brim with the feeling that, yes, it is finally fall.
We were so lucky last year to happen upon Sweetland Orchard when searching for a place to pick apples in our new state. It is the antithesis to corn mazing, petting zooing, hay riding, inflatable castle jumping apple orchards - a pastoral retreat. A professor at a local college and her husband, a chemist, moved out here and bought an orchard where they raise their young daughter, dog and chickens. They keep it simple and lovely. Come. Wander through the orchard. Pick apples. Have a picnic among the trees. Take home some cider (apparently the best in Minnesota), and super yummy donuts. And have a good year until we see you next time.
This year Minnesota's apple crop had a pretty rough time. With a frost following warm temperatures in early spring, much of the crop was lost. Mike, one of the owners of Sweetland Orchard, estimated that they had lost 90 percent of their crop. But we had no trouble finding what we desired - apples, certainly, but more than that. Our yearly tradition. Our official step into fall. And we will be reminded daily, as we eat our way through our harvest, of Ava's grin as she picked the first apples off the tree herself, of Eli's first taste of apple, of the warm sun as we picnicked among the trees - for I know that warmth is fleeting, and I will be hard pressed to remember it in just a month or so from now.