The girls, Molly and I headed out to Riley Farms in Oak Glen, past Yucaipa (Where? Who knows) to go apple picking on Saturday. It was about a two hour drive straight east for us, with traffic of course, to a virtual no man's land as far as we coast-huggers were concerned. Before we left, the morning looked like this: 7:30am we went to Mina's volleyball game for some sluggish hilarity -- the short of it is that any nine year old who can serve the ball over the net will earn the point because hitting it back they have not yet mastered. Then we were off to Mina's TaeKwonDo studio where Maya had already taught the 9:30am lil white belt class. Kick, kick, block, block, yadi, yadi, then we were off to Maya's volleyball game where the kids demonstrated a little more skill than I had expected. Maya looked very self conscious on the v-ball court, bummed that she's not automatically fantastic at every athletic endeavor she attempts, even when she's never done it before nor knows any rules or ins and outs. I said, "What, you going out for the Olympics already in this? Catch yourself a break and have a good time." She was like, Oh, ok. She didn't play badly on Saturday, I thought.
Maya's game. Then finally, we were off, towards Yucaipa and other unknown regions of Southern California for the much anticipated apple picking. We drove past downtown, past east LA, then we entered Illinois, I think. 50 miles outside of LA is pretty much middle America. You may find it surprising - I know I do and I'm from here - that California is not all wheatgrass drinkers and surfers or actors and film makers. Nope. We've got some salt of the earth right here too; enlightened and ignorant salt just like everybody else. We exited the freeway and followed the Yes on 8 signs all the way up to the farm. This made me cringe. For those not from Cali, Prop 8 is trying to eliminate same-sex marriage laws that were so hard won here not too long ago. No on 8 would keep same-sex marriages, Yes on 8 "upholds traditional marriage" and squashes the rights of others. This is a very heated topic here. In Santa Monica, No on 8 signs abound. In Orange County, where I work, I was taken aback when I saw the first Yes on 8 bumper sticker. Then I heard about the rallies where people stand on street corners -- for the Lord and family, don't you know -- and wave Yes on 8 signs. They've even been going door to door! And I thought, why is so much time and money being invested to take something away from someone else? Why is this time and money not going into good works for god or Jesus, if that's their agenda, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and the like. I truly believe Jesus shakes his head at this kind of hate-mongering or right-blocking. He must be thinking, You really missed the point, y'all.
After a windy, uphill drive on a sidewalkless road, we arrived at the farm which was crowded and teaming with families holding brown bags that spilled apples . The grounds were gorgeous and the staff was dressed in pioneer-days style. I looked out onto the pumpkin patch, noting the spectrum of sizes; huge and lopsided squash to small and round ones with curved, ridged stems. The day was crisp, but warm still and the dots of orange in the field held hands with the blue of the sky. I saw a cute blond boy about four with a cap weaving around pumpkins. When he turned around, I saw that his parents had stuck a YES ON 8 round sticker to the back of his shirt. I looked around at the crowd suspiciously. I then noticed a Yes on 8 banner stabbed in the dirt at the entrance of the farm, and this all made me on edge.
But we wandered out into the fields then, past the endless baby strollers and pods of families wearing matching jean shorts, and the trees put me at ease. The dirt comforted me. Molly and I found ourselves repeating, "Nature is awesome" a hundred times. The girls picked up walking sticks and ran along the path. Mina threatened to chuck her stick a few times, announcing, "Look, I'm a javelin thrower." I wasn't sure if watching so much Olympic coverage was such a good thing.
As a city girl, my idea of apple trees comes from illustrated fantasies of them; an Adam and Eve type tree, lush and full, thick-trunked with a bush of green leaves and low-hanging fruit. I hid my disappointment when I first saw the main orchard. It was a quiet disappointment still charged with the excitement of pulling fruit from the life source. We strolled up to a scrawny tree which had a puddle of fresh and decaying apples at the foot of the trunk. Some of the fruit on the ground looked perfectly fine, others were browned and flattened, returning to the dirt. The tree branches looked stripped and dry. Trees leaned this way and that. Then I looked up, and there they were. Apples clustered together like hanging jewels! I felt like we had stumbled upon a secret treasure. They lit up the brittle branches, and the trees did not look the same then. They were not scrawny at all; not dry or leaning or little. They were perfect; giving and beautiful and perfect. Nature is awesome.
This farm was not an organic one. This was a bit unsettling to both Molly and I and we were told that the trees get sprayed twice a year. We found some comfort that bugs still seemed part of the natural process. We saw plenty of bees and spiders and other bugs I can't identify. At first I wasn't going to let the girls eat any of our chemical-laden bounty until I had soaked them in vinegar first, but as we skipped back down the path with baskets and bags full of apples, we couldn't resist them. I rubbed each little apple on my jeans roughly and kissed it to the sky. Down the hatch. Good god, they were amazing. Chemicals and all. We ended up eating about four each and they were all great, the small ones, the ugly ones, the medium ones; all were sweet and snappy. Our faces lit up each time we took a bite, like it was a surprise every single time. When Molly bit into her first apple, she said, "This is the best thing I've ever put into my mouth." I had to agree. We were all under the apples' spell. She took two more bites and then accidentally dropped the apple onto the dirt path. We all stopped and stared at the apple for what seemed like an eternity, mourning its perfectness. Molly picked it up. The exposed white apple flesh was spotted with sticks and dirt, and I could see it run through her mind how the apple could be salvaged. We did too. "Let's just rinse it off somewhere," we suggested. We earnestly tried to solve this dilemma for a good five minutes because the fruit seemed so precious to us now; we understood what a gift it was. Finally Molly tossed the dusty apple over the side of the path. "Back to the earth," she said.
By the end of the day, all my nervousness about the people we were among had dissolved. I didn't even notice them or the hate signs by then. The apples and the sky and our little pod of love was all that mattered. I could only imagine that nature would soften their resolve too, melt away a little of their stand to block others right to be, to love. Ah, nature makes me sentimental, makes me appreciate the simplicity and strength of generosity. Back to the earth indeed.
Here are some pic's from our day. Molly taking photos of wildflowers. I spent most of yesterday baking, which I haven't done in a while. But what's a sister to do with a bushel full of apples? Is it obvious to say peeling and chopping and baking hand-pick apples delivers a type of satisfaction deeper than one experiences regularly? Eating the goods brought no less satisfaction. I sop up every photo taken from the experience.
Vegan apple pie, my favorite meal of all time.