In late September the weather in Chicago
gets noticeably cooler. It's just the first hint of what Chicago winter
has in store, but it hits the old-timers hard. Finally, it's cool enough to sleep, but experience and the creaking in our joints are nagging us playtime is over
. The streets and cafes and transit vehicles begin to course with fresh-faced new students, forever young
and younger every year. The artists bring out what they've been working on, to amaze us and turn our thoughts to all our own work left undone
...all bittersweet pleasures of autumn
But there is one pure, unmitigated joy the season brings us: the new apples
All around Southern Lake Michigan
" orchards await the chilled Chicagoan. Some are massive tourist traps complete with trucked-in pumpkins, hay rides
and facilitated campfire singing. Some are old, working family orchard
s trying to raise a little extra cash like the University extension agent
said they might. Pay by the pound
or by the bushel; pick from dwarf trees or use the orchard's ladders until the migrant workers
arrive for the wax-and-bag side of the operation. Seek out heirloom varieties
for an almost-forgotten family recipe, or take the favorites you know from the grocery store -- this local produce
is guaranteed to be better. There's a hardness
to the new apples that no store-bought specimen can match, and you can pick the sun-splashed, tree-ripened examples that are always superior to the run of the mill.
Bring some kids if you can. Kids love the picking, the eating, the outdoor romping, and seeing us old folks take a deep breath of clean air for a change. They also get to let the juice run down their chins, and really feel
the lesson that "food comes from a farm
, not from a store". The new apples will keep well if you and the kids are careful not to bruise them, (and even if you do, there's always baking, canning and juicing).
All through the bitter locked-down months they can remind you of this ritual pilgrimage made in younger years. They can remind you of the fading warmth of sun, and the smell of windfall
s sweetly fermenting under the trees, lazily attended by wasps too drunk and fat to sting. They can remind you that the region had a life before the city attacked it and tried to convert it all into suburbs...and that some things are so good and fragile the locals keep them for themselves...you can't get them at Wal-Mart.
The new apples can even remind you that having four seasons is not necessarily for suckers