Sunday was the perfect day for picking apples. The weather was warm and sunny, there was just a little breeze that made you wear a long sleeve shirt, and the air smelled like fall for the first time this year. There’s an excitement that takes hold when the leaves start falling and crunching under foot, a childlike nervousness that Christmas is coming soon and the snow will make outside quiet and moody.
My wife and I took our son for the thirty-five minute drive outside of the city of Rochester to the country, into Wayne County, the number one apple producing county in New York and home of Mott’s. We went to Lagoner Farms to ride the tractor pulled wagon, pick tree fresh apples, drink cider, and breathe in the beautiful scenery.
It was busy, as expected, and sometimes my first reaction to crowds is to recoil, becoming a little hesitant about even going, thinking that somewhere along the lines the size of the crowd will ruin the day. The bigger the group of people the better the chance that someone detestable shows up and irritates me, my acting skills have always been sub par in those situations and I often where my heart on my sleeve.
We walked around to get the feel for it and I decided to get in line for the tractor ride while Ruth followed Pi around the playground. It was the greatest playground ever, a real working farm playground with wooden swings, piles of bailed hay, and a big sandbox filled with trucks and diggers. My son was ecstatic.
I stood in line just behind a group of four. They were younger than me, but not by much and talked about how one couple was trying to have their first baby. It was nice to see them out doing something family oriented before having their first family. I know I rarely did before Pi came along. But I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation, partly because we were standing close together but also because I hated them.
They complained a lot. Pretty much about everything; how hot it was, how long this line was, how expensive the apples were, how crappy the city was, how stupid some movie was, how terrible some football game was, how awful their jobs were, how terrible their car was, how cruddy the food was at some restaurant was, and how bad, in general the world is all the time. It just didn’t seem to stop. I started getting itchy and hot.
We hadn’t been there for very long and my mood was foul. I thought about leaving, but I saw Pi having the time of his life so I tried to block it out. I was doing a miserable job of it when they decided to leave. They thought it was taking too long for the tractor to return and pick up more people.
“Why go out there and pick the same apples they already have on the front porch for the same price”?
One of the girls actually asked, “Do you guys even care about picking apples”? And everyone agreed that they didn’t and left the line. I was just happy it got shorter and quieter.
We boarded the little wagon pulled by a small tractor. The driver was a pleasant man that resembled my father. Pi even asked if it was Papa. Once we started pulling away from the farm, the sights and sounds were plenty and I started to forget about the “Fairport 4” as I nicknamed them because of a group opine about how much better Fairport is than all the other towns around Rochester as if they’re all different countries with strange new economies, currencies, and customs.
I enjoyed being out in the middle of a field, even with strangers, as we left the wagon and weaved our way past them into empty rows of trees, just the sun and the gleam of red and green apples, faint voices curling over the rustle of leaves, the occasional burst of laughter or a child yelling out for joy. We were having a great time and Pi really enjoyed taking the apples out of the tree and crunching into them, more than that, my wife and I felt “home” amid the quiet pews of trees and the alter of the country. It gave us a feeling in our hearts that we were closer to where we grew up, where our childhood memories reside, and where we finally figure to belong.
The pearl was still hidden, probably coyly peeking at me from underneath the vinegar scented apples that had fallen down to reconnect where they came from. I was lost in the day, conveniently absent minded, relaxed, and for the first time that day, happy.
We finished picking our apples and boarded the wagon to head back to the farm. They make their own hard cider, which we had before, and it’s very good, so we were headed back in to sample the new versions, sit out in the sun, let Pi play on the playground and have some late lunch. Ruth even had someone on the wagon take a family picture on the way back, the blue sky and red apples in the background looking more like a cartoon than reality.
The wagon ride was quiet, the bumps and ruts in the road were methodic, and my son was sitting contently in my lap, my left arm wrapped around his waist acting as a seat belt. I took my right hand and rested it on Ruth’s knee, her warm hand gently resting on mine and we rode on. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back, and let the sun soak in.
That’s where I found it. I found the pearl right there. It was never hidden, but rather out in the open, not in the convalescence of the “Fairport 4” but rather in the very fabric of the reality of the day, a gentle Buddhist mindfulness that enlightenment doesn’t come from silently meditating alone, but can come when it’s least expected, because that’s when you’re most ready for it.
The adjective of the pearl comes from Jack Kerouac, who went searching in his infamous book “On the Road” for the same thing. Although he found it just 100 pages in. It seemed like an odd time to find what you were looking for so early in the novel, and it took me until this past Sunday to figure out what he meant.
Little pearls of wisdom can be found and saved for remembrance somewhere later in life. My pearl in the apple orchard will remain in my mind’s pocket, and someday, I’ll be old, or sick, or both, and pull that pearl out, running it through my fingers and it will feel the same; the same weight from my little boy on my lap, the warmth of my wife’s hand on mine, the gentle rhythmic bounce and hum of the tractor, the unmistakable feeling of the bright, beautiful autumn sun warming my bones, and I’ll be happy all over again.