In his poem “After Apple-Picking,” Robert Frost tells of a weary farmer at the end of harvest. He may have left a few apples untouched on the branches. A few may be bruised and battered, or have fallen to the ground, and are tossed into the cider barrel. All is done, though, and the narrator looks forward to his long winter sleep.
That farmer and this writer have a lot in common.
I’m not much of a gentleman farmer, having owned only one pear and two apple trees for two growing seasons now. For that matter, I’m also not much of a poet or scholar of poetry. But once, many years ago, I got a taste — literally — of Frost’s work when my English professor took us apple-picking on his farm.
Professor Noel Perrin was perhaps more widely known for his “essays of a sometime farmer” in Vermont Life magazine that spawned a series of “First Person Rural” books. He took inspiration from his farm in Thetford, where on several bright autumn days he convened his senior Frost seminar for some hands-on experience.
Perrin took us swinging “Birches” (ours bent, then broke, and we cut up the trunk for souvenirs). He took us picking apples. We worked the branches along with the windfalls, which we grabbed before the neighbor’s cows did. We took the cider apples — bruises and bugs and all — into the barn to be mashed and pressed.
We sampled the cider, the juice of the fruit of our labors, and I promptly suffered a splitting migraine.
Learning from masters
Too much information? Perhaps. Or perhaps I was too close to the subject, for the apples could just as easily be words:
Today I picked apples from our tree, much as I had done four decades before, and as Perrin and Frost had before me. I reached for the fruit, examined it. I selected the apples that had the perfect shape, the right texture.
I discarded the ones that did not measure up, the ones that had flaws. Some beauties eluded my grasp; I could not reach that high. I chose others, the low-hanging fruit, too casually.
By the end of an hour or so of hunt-and-picking, I had a basketful of beauties surrounded by a lawn littered with discards. We have no cider barrel; the fallen fruit will feed the birds and wildlife we love. (The yellow jackets? Not so much.)
We have more good apples than we can use. We’ll eat some ourselves, and share others with the food bank. What good is bounty if you do not put it to use? It simply withers away and rots.
As for picking more: There’s always tomorrow. And, with feeding and watering and pruning, next year.