Pressing an Isle of Apples

Published: October 16th 2009
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Monday Evening

Surrounding me are large pines, oaks and birches. Their leaves dance with the breeze in rhythms of a Fall melody, rustling like sequin designs presenting kaleidoscopic colors of greens, yellows, oranges and reds. Draped along branches swaying in a swooned throng, the arbors tower into a deep cast of infinite blue.

“Simone,” I shout. Opening the fence, I step inside his property line and stride across a patch of freshly mowed grass.

No response.

I call out again. “Simone!”

A disturbance swells from the bushes. I direct my attention beyond the reaches of wild brambles and sorrel scrub.

“Dude,” Simone shouts. My best friend emerges from the rear of his land garbed in thick work pants and heavy boots. “You’re late.”

A couple of weeks ago, Simone and I decided to harvest apples to press into fresh cider, as well as ferment into the hard stuff. Days passed with job routines and priorities, occupied with little else but business. Then alas, our schedules syncopated like a rare cosmic alignment.

“Come on, man. These trees are bursting.”

Bainbridge Island, Washington is home to serenity with the close contrast of city-life. A mere thirty-five minute ferry ride from the waterfront of Seattle across seven miles of Puget Sound lands you in paradise. Here, seasoned boaters intermix within a menagerie of settled artists, pomp business peoples, and thriving farmers. Not only is it a calming respite from the city’s nuisances, but it’s also home to a fine array of apple trees. With the island at a maximum width of four miles running ten miles north to south, there is plenty of manageable picking.

We clamor through the thickets and walk into an expanded field of dry grasses. Two trees are nestled in the brush and as I glimpse into their canopies, my taste buds begin to jig. Robust, gilded in sunshine, bursting with delectable hues, the fruits are like glass ornaments on an over-stuffed Christmas tree. I climb the ladder and start picking.

Our cheap nylon sacks begin to tear. Simone and I have plucked nearly every last apple from bottom to top. Our knuckles turn white as we truck out of the field, and our stomachs gurgle with pectin as we step onto the tailored lawn.

With speed the apples are halved. We cut the crisp and slice the juice. We whittle the eaten flesh and remove worms from their blackened holes. Then we press—all manual, all labor—for the sumptuous rewards. As night falls, and as our harvest amounts to a mere yield of 2 gallons, we begin to wonder.

“I think we need more apples.”

Friday Morning

Top down, or top up?” I’m looking into the eyes of my lover over the Volkswagen’s roof. It’s early in the morning. We see condensation pluming from our mouths, but a glance into the dawn’s sky reveals beauty; a vast clear bluedom waiting for sun.

“Top up,” she responds. “I think on the way back will be nicer.”

Lily and I pile in. I turn the ignition, jack the stick-shift into reverse and step on the accelerator. It’s 8AM and we’re heading north across Agate Pass Bridge onto the Olympic Peninsula. Our mission is to find apples, lots of them, clustered in a single location.

The day before I did my online research and discovered a U-Pick farm harvesting apples. Shortly after dialing the number, an older woman answered the phone.

“Hello, I’m looking to make some cider. Do you still have apples on your trees?”

The woman replied, “Well yes, but I’m not sure how many you need?”

“At least 50 pounds.”

There was a brief chuckle. I pictured her shaking her head at my request, a novice cider-presser at his best. “Oh yes, there is more than 50 pounds. Come on over.”

Highway 3 is an open road. There is little traffic across the bridges and up into the evergreen forests. We pass densely shaded stretches of roadway and wisp through clearcuts revealing expansive horizons. Bypassing small settlements with the odd giftshop, which includes sales of fresh oysters and coffee, the scenery is bucolic, peaceful and adventurous. The early October day is extensively clear. At vista points we glance north across the Puget Sound to the Cascades and spot Mount Baker capped in white. A little over an hour brings us into the rain-shadow of Sequim.

Sequim receives over 300 days of sunshine, receiving a mere 16-inches of rain annually. This is an impressive amount of clarity for the Pacific Northwest. Yet tucked against the edge of the northeastern Olympic National Park, the massive range of wildland protects this miniscule valley from torrents sweeping off the Pacific Ocean. Once the weather passes over the summits there’s little left to hydrate civilization below. That being said, Sequim is literally a hotspot of agriculture not akin to Western Washington’s climate.

Lily and I turn left and drive towards the mountains. We wind through farmland and take another turn onto Clover Lane. Two houses down we pull into Greenweave Farms.

“Are you Melissa?” I ask stepping out of the car.

The little old woman steps forward with rake in hand. She removes one weathered garden glove and reaches out. “Yes I am. How was the drive?”

Lily looks into the sky and smiles. “Sweet as apple pie.”

Melissa shows us her farm. Her and her now deceased husband bought the land some twenty years back and since cultivated a wealth of fruit trees. “I decided to place a U-Pick blurb about us on a free advertising website a few years ago and it’s a great added income.” Her pronouncement of us hints at a continued presence of her husband. “But meeting new folks,” she continues, “is most enjoyable for a little ‘ol lady like me.”

Among pears, plums, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, quince and walnuts, we are guided through the apple orchard. “You know,” Melissa begins. “If the apple twists off easily it’s ripe. But don’t shake and pull them. Those are not ready.”

With crates at our feet and an old wooden wheel barrel to the side, we pluck Kings, Macintosh and Gravenstein, filling one sack after the other. Two hours pass. Underneath the crisp cool sun, not a sound but our smiles and falling fruit disturb the setting. The top is now down and the sweet smell of ripe apples swirls around the cabin as we peel towards home.

Friday Night

The tree is right around here.” Simone is creeping his car along the dark street. “Here, right here.”

I switch on the Magnum flashlight and a strong beam lights up the front yard. The car stops and we stare. Three trees are drooping with the weight of hundreds of foam-green apples. They are humungous. They’re causing us both to salivate.

Pulling over in a lot, we unload and collect our harvesting tools before scampering onto the property. It’s late for island activity, roundabout 10:30 on a Friday night, and we’re confident we’ll be able to work undisturbed. Under the trees’ canopies, we start collecting our clandestine apples.

One tree after another Simone and I tour the south end of Bainbridge, returning to the properties where we’ve noted an abundance of trees. Stealthily, we forage, filling crate after crate with bags full of fruit. Each tree’s variety has a distinct flavor. Some are sweet and crisp. Others are bitter with soft flesh. Few exhibit no taste whatsoever. We take note and continue.

As we scour yards—car rolling at 5mph, eyes as bright as flashlights—we spot a pear tree that tantalizes us like beautiful coupling Sirens. We glance at the house. It’s old and in disrepair; windows broken, concealed with scraps of compost board.

There is an eerie feeling on Bainbridge Island when in the presence of an abandoned house at the hours of darkness. Ghost stories and haunted rumors abound its residents, and silence overpowers the senses. At the slightest rustling, hairs raise and scenarios of tales run over the imagination. Years back while traveling through Europe, I encountered my first and only phantasm in a rundown hostel in Madrid. It was a beautiful young girl, hovering inches above the floor and garlanded in a dress from the 1800s. Carrying a candlestick at her chest, she drifted down an old wooden hallway without a sound.

Today, as we hunt our fruits on home territory, the experience is more startling.

Coming upon the tree with its ornate fruit, there’s a shout. Simone and I freeze in our tracks. Time halts. Senses spike to extreme alert. Then crunching. Footsteps, thuds, chewing cuds and disturbing grunts. I hear Simone whisper.

“Let’s get the fuck out of hear.”

“What about the pears?”

“Screw the pears. I wanna jet.”

We turn back, pass the house and reach our car. As we saddle up, a light flickers on in the darkness outside. It’s a flashlight and its barer is a heavyset man. Over the car’s mechanical groans we hear a cry, the words indecipherable.

“Simone, turn left, turn left!”

“Who the fuck is that?”

“Who cares, dude. Just turn left and go!”

Saturday Afternoon

In a span of three days, I, along with Simone and Lily, collect over 200 pounds of apples. The varieties range from Kings, Macintosh and Gravenstein to Golden Delicious and a host of unknowns. They are unique in size, taste and texture resembling the colony of Homo sapiens cohabitating my hometown. As the weekend unfolds, Lily and I attend a cider pressing party.

The Fall day is blanketed in gray, but as the afternoon progresses with sun heating sky, the flat clouds disseminate to reveal an amber light across our faces.

We know one at the gathering and recognize few others. Young kids run around with sticks and pull each other in red wagons, jumping on an oversized trampoline, scouring up and down the treehouse. Musicians reveal their instruments and song libraries, singing Paul Simon after The Grateful Dead. We mingle among farmers, artists and hippies, realizing we’re the generation in between.

Nick, the owner of the two-acre property, shows us his white doves. He trains and reproduces them as messenger birds that now act as ceremonial additions to funerals and weddings. He also operates his own bio-diesel plant in a grungy wooden shed, which fuels his two vehicles. The operation resembles what I imagine a meth lab, but it’s an impressive setup among a great collection of individuals, who each carry a basket of apples to squeeze into cider.

For hours the press moans, grinding apples into slated bins before manual crushed beneath the wench. The juice flows through two filters before storage in a tank where an eclectic display of jars and jugs await near the nozzles. The taste is as fresh as fresh can be.

A man by the name of Devin swung by, dropped off his apples and a small jar before disappearing. I didn’t get to meet him, but only heard of his misnomer via the jar at the center of conversation.

“You want some?” Gareth, a music theoretician was pouring himself a cup.

I held out my paper gourd. “What is it?”

Chuck, a tall lanky man with short black hair chimed in. “My friend brought it by. It’s distilled apple cider with a hint of oak.”

“And its about 90 proof,” Gareth added. He poured me a splash and tightened the lid. I watched Chuck take a swig. His teeth clenched and his lips part as he sucked in air.

The smell was rich but the taste tenfold. Like whiskey, but smoother and sweet all the way down, the licorice finish warmed my belly, fumigated my esophagus and unclogged my sinuses. Scrumptious.

Sunday Night

I stroll back onto Simone’s property, this time carrying approximately 150 pounds of apples with Lily. We’re gathering in the dusk of the season’s coldest night to manually press our goods. With containers, jugs, bottles and jars sprawled out on the grass, the four of us, including Simone’s girlfriend Sarah, stand before a relic of a press. It’s the father’s of Simone’s neighbor and the cart is a thing of beauty. Stain is wearing off. Wood panels and slated baskets are flimsy. There’s a sturdy wench oozing fresh axel grease. Indubitably, it’s a machine of muscle, requiring forearms and shoulders to crank the grinder and spin the pulverizer.

Night seeps over the workstation. Lily, Simone, Sarah, and myself take turns manning the terminals. Two halve the apples, removing any rotting creatures, while two work the beast; one grinding, the other spinning the wench to squeeze out every last dewdrop of nectar.

Hours tick. We laugh. Chat. We remember the old and the new, the good and the bad; and we sip our fresh cider. Then in a split, slice and squash, it’s suddenly late. Cold hands, cut phalanges and wheezy eyes coming off sugar highs bleed into the evening. We look around the darkness. There are no more apples. But in the center are approximately 20 gallons of cider in various vessels. So we yawn and we scratch gazing at our booty, the epitome of Johnny Apple Seed, and we realize the day has come to an end. Night closes in. Taking fresh juices, Lily and I say goodbye.

It’ll be another season after two months of waiting. These batches aren’t fully finished. The patience of a cultivator, a harvester, a hard cider fieldworker. As I lift the gallon glass jar to my lips, take a swig of the apples’ juices, and then pass it along to Lily, I look into her eyes. “Can we summon the discipline?”

Cameron Karsten Photography will be a featured artist at a special upcoming Bainbridge Island event. Located west of Seattle, the 35-minute ferry ride will bring you to the One World Multicultural Festival, an all-day event happening Thursday, November 12th. With cultural food, music, dance, art and film, the event will celebrate world diversity with a focus on peace and how we can create sustainability. Please come and join us at The Upstairs Gallery in The Bainbridge Pavilion for an artist reception from 6-8:30pm.

Show up, peruse the art, enjoy the festivities, create dialogue and manifest peace; and know that your presence and your purchase of Cameron Karsten Photography goes directly to funding our upcoming Journey to East Africa. Along with Lily Brewis, our mission begins in January 2010. We will work with and volunteer all of our time with several orphanages, NGOs, and grassroots communities. Your support is necessary to help spread the word, create change and share the bounties of this diverse world. We appreciate any and all help, from networking with local non-profits and in-country contacts to funding our project. Documentation via photography, article writing and HD film footage will vicariously transport you into the stories of orphaned children to the organizations working with the dying tribe of the Hamar people. See you there!


16th October 2009

Well Done
Cam, NIcey done. I enjoyed ready your very vivid entry. Who is Simone. I used to ahve a girlfriend by that name. Every time I see it or hear it, I do a double take. I read the bottom regarding your upcoming trip. Great Stuff. If I am stepping on your toes, I apologize. One little suggestion in the last paragraph? Perhaps you can consider replacing "the next journey in East Africa" with "our upcoming Journey to East Africa". "Along with Lily Brewis, our mission begins in January 2010. We will work with and volunteer all of our time to work with several orphanages, NGOs, and grassroots communities."....Just a thought. You have a much better flair for this than I do. Cheers
16th October 2009

Fabulous photos, Cam, and I love the story!
16th October 2009

Hey Robin! Thank you for the encouragement. I can't wait to connect again on the isle and out in Hamar country of Ethiopia. I'm erupting with joy/ecstasy/potential at the possibilities and being able to provide some exquisite work for you and Lori at GTLI! See you soon. In Peace, cam
16th October 2009

Brotha, you rock!
Seriously, step all over these toes and keep dancin'!
16th October 2009

Watermark much?
I'm sure your pics are good, but don't you think you're overdoing the watermark a bit? Not that I expect you to change your mind, but you might want to see a photography editor's perspective: It's your right to protect your art, but you may end up protecting it to oblivion...
16th October 2009

Thanks Kevin, I've never received feedback about watermarks, and I realize now its a form of protection and marketing for me. I'll experiment with sizing and look forward to hearing more thoughts from you and others. Thanks! In Peace, cam
16th October 2009

Delicious, Fresh, Juicy
Great Writing Content and Style. Feeling Apple Juice Everywhere. Thanks
16th October 2009

I owe you an apology
I was re-reading my prior comment to you, and I owe you an apology, the title was pretty rude and annoying. I can believe you responded as civil as you did (says a lot of good about you). Anyways, what I meant to say (minus the poor sarcasm) is that, for me, its very difficult to enjoy your pictures as the watermarks are really distracting. I see from others comments here and your previous blog entries that it doesn seem to bother most of the folks, so I may be in the small minority. For what its worth, Ive always thought that a low-contrast watermark in a *consistent* location (so its still noticeable on first view, but easier to mentally tune out once you get used to it), combined with a relatively low resolution image (obviously not a problem on this website) is a reasonable compromise.
16th October 2009

D embrace
Hey my brother! Thanks for the flavors! I miss you and wished youd move north. peace n love, cam
16th October 2009

Watering the Marks of Change
Hey Kevin, No worries. I mean it, thank you. I need that progressive feedback to swallow in whatever form it arrives. I think you e right... consistency, consistency... with a little more translucent marking. And like you said... theyre low rez, 72dpi. Can do much with that. Thanks again! In peace, cam
20th October 2009

I like clappling
It makes the fruit taste more the close-up image of the sunlight apples is gorgeous.
20th October 2009

For those unawares... Clappling is short for Clandestine Apple picking, or appling
15th January 2010

Blog of the year 2009, North America/ photography category
Check this out :)

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