As a native upstate New Yorker, apple picking runs in my blood. In my fourth grade class, not just one, but two of my classmates’ families owned apple orchards. While the picking – and especially the cider – isn’t as good in Maryland as New York, it’s still one of my favorite fall traditions. So for the final day of the Outdoors Family Challenge, focusing on “local food,” I wanted to pick apples at Homestead Farm. Even though my anxiety got the best of me on the way there, the crunch of apples, a friendly llama, and Sprout’s enthusiasm lifted my spirits by the time we finished.
Arriving at the farm, I was in a bad way. Little Bird started teething last week and woke up at least four or five times over the course of Saturday night. With him only accepting mommy as night nurse, I slept maybe two hours in my own bed. On top of that, I was freaking out about toilet training, Sprout’s perpetually delayed bedtime, and any other parenting issue my squirrely brain could bang itself into bits over.
I got out of the car nearly twitching, wondering if we should have stayed home so I could take a nap. (Good luck on that between the baby who needs to eat and the “I’ve swapped my indoor and outdoor voices” three-year-old.) I gently shook Sprout, who had dozed off on the way there, but he just squirmed and gave me a nasty look.
“Don’t you want to go apple picking?” I asked. Silence. “Don’t you want to look at the goats?” He grumped his way out of the car.
Being outside in the cool air made the walk across the parking lot a little easier. Sprout was dragging his feet, but out of the fun of dragging one’s feet in gravel, not spite. The background fuzz in my head began to fade.
A cart of giant pumpkins and a hayride awaited us at the farm’s entrance, but those were traditions for another day. Instead, we turned towards the rows of apple trees, promising as we went that we’d definitely go on a hayride next weekend.
As we passed the signs indicating the apple varieties, Sprout asked, “What’s that say?”
“Cameo, Suncrisp, and Empire that way,” I read.
“We’re picking Oreo apples!” he declared. I laughed, not wanting to correct him but also wanting to tamp down any expectation of a creamy vanilla center. “Cameo, honey, cameo apples.”
When we first reached the trees, Sprout ran down the row, after Chris and Little Bird. But then he slowed, drawn to the apples. He’d looked closely at a tree, examining each individual fruit.
“Look for ones that have a lot of red, without any brown spots,” I coached. “Brown means a bug already got to them. We don’t want to share our apples with bugs.”
“I’ve got an apple! I can put it in my bag myself,” he said, as he plunked it into his cloth bag. Almost all of the ones he picked were totally green. But at least they were relatively bug-free. I suspect we’ll use a number of them in applesauce.
We moseyed down the rows, trying to find the few good apples that hadn’t yet been picked over. When I saw a good one up high, I hauled him onto my shoulders. “That one!” he’d say and grab one, never the one I intended to reach.
Eventually, Chris wandered back, Little Bird now snoozing in the carrier. After wiping it on his pants, he held an apple out to Sprout. “Try it!” he urged.
Sprout nibbled it, juice oozing down his face. “It’s good.”
Once our bags were just a little too heavy, we headed back. We strolled hand-in-hand, me resisting the temptation to rush and instead embrace the slower perspective.
At the front of the farm, we came upon a huge stack of hay bales. Sprout scrambled up, proclaiming, “I’m on top of the hay!” Kids jumped and fell about, sending hay everywhere.
Nearby, a pen held a couple of squat goats and a friendly llama. We told the animals how adorable they were, while wishing that we could see the goat aerial platforms and slide in action.
On the way back to the car, I looked up at the sky and sighed. While still tired, I had found a little bit of peace in the physical labor, fresh air, and shared traditions.