Wednesday, October 21

A Background

"What a healthy out-of-door appetite it takes to relish the apple of life, the apple of the world, then!"  -- Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples

I fee like perhaps it is appropriate to begin with the story of my life, maybe not my whole life just now, but at least the part that has lead to a bunkhouse in New Hampshire, where I now sit next to a barrel stove writing this. 
I was born in Chicago Illinois, although I wouldn't consider myself a city kid.  By the time I was old enough to be out exploring my surroundings to any great degree, my mother and I had relocated to rural Wisconsin.  It was a small town in the hills called Gays Mills surrounded by orchards on one side and the Kickapoo river on the other where I spent most of my childhood.
I feel as though I have always loved being outdoors, but more than that I think I have always loved working outdoors.  From a fairly early age this proved to be true, I worked on an organic farm for three summers during my high school years.  It was also then that I got my first taste of apple picking.  I worked with a few friends at Flemming Orchards, one of the smaller orchards on the ridge outside of Gays Mills (there were six orchards at the time two of which have since closed).  Even my first experience picking was a solitary one.  I would often get sent out on an ATV pulling a small trailer with crates, filling them as I went.  Occasionally I would get to pick into larger bins, usually twenty bushels, which would require me to wear a picking bag.  From time to time I would also arise at two in the morning on a Saturday and travel with the owner of the orchard to the farmers market in Madison Wisconsin selling pecks and half pecks of apples as well as fresh pressed cider.
By the time I was a senior in high school I
had "graduated" to one of the larger orchards on the ridge, Kickapoo Orchards, another family owned orchard.  There I picked with a crew of people, mostly local, some of whom only worked seasonally or the occasional odd job.  I had finished most of my required classes in order to graduate, so I would spend the morning in classes and the afternoon in the orchard.  It was during this time that I began to fall in love with the apple harvest.  After spending all morning in a stuffy classroom, the fresh crisp air of an October day felt amazing.  Climbing a sixteen foot wooden ladder to the top of a Cortland tree and observing the surrounding valleys and bluffs cloaked in their autumn blanket would always give me pause.
After high school I attended a small liberal arts college in Iowa.  The schedule which worked on the block plan allowed me to take a month off per year and still be a full time student.  I didn't have to think twice about which month I wanted to take off.  For two out of four of my college years I spent the month of September in the apple trees before returning to school, with some extra money which I had no trouble finding a use for.
With four years of higher learning under my belt, I took a post graduation road trip, which at the time almost felt like a requirement.  Even after a trip British Columbia and the Olympic peninsula, the apple trees and autumn air pulled me back to Wisconsin and come September I found myself once again with a picking bag strapped over my shoulders, this time at Sunrise Orchards; the largest orchard on the ridge and the largest family owned orchard in the state of Wisconsin.
By this time the rhythm was set, I knew where I wanted to be when fall rolled around.  The following year I hopped off the Appalachian Trail after hiking for four months and headed back for the apple harvest.  Although I moved to Madison and worked at a cooperative bakery for the next two years I still found time to come up to Gays Mills for at least part of the season.  After two years in Madison however my wanderlust lead me to the road once again.  Having left Madison this past May I embarked on a long distance bike ride from New York to Michigan and than another across Iowa.  With this summer also came the fulfillment of a long time dream of mine as I made my first journey to Alaska.  Upon my return however summer had made it’s way to a close.  As the warm summer nights gave way to brisk autumn mornings I made one final journey to New Hampshire where I would pick apples for the first time away from my hometown.  My destination was Moose Hill Orchards, a place I had herd much about from several different friends who had picked there ten and twenty years before. 
Here I now sit next to the barrel stove in the bunkhouse at Moose Hill Orchards.  With apples still left to bring in and frost on the pumpkins, I can't think of may places I would rather be.  Cheers!

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