I attended a Robert Frost poetry reading at Dartmouth College shortly before he died in 1963. Although he was just short of ninety years old, the impression I got was of a wily octogenarian who knew what he was doing. The auditorium in Hopkins Center was filled to overflowing with an appreciative audience. After all, Frost had studied at Dartmouth for a while before he listened to the call of his muse and dropped out.
Although he was almost the quintessential New Englander, Frost was actually born in San Francisco. I think that was all part of his wiliness. I had the feeling he could fit in almost anywhere.
Here is one of my favorite poems of his:
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
Bags of Apples from Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, VT
The best apples I ever ate were from Vermont and New Hampshire. Sorry, Washington State, but you’re a distant third. I remember when Martine and I went to New England and Quebec in September 2012. We flew to Boston, rented a car in Salem, and drove to Green Mountain Orchards in Putney, Vermont, where we bought several bags of apples. I swear that for the next three weeks, our car smelled of the tangy Vermont apples.
As good, when we could find it, was unpasteurized apple cider from Vermont and New Hampshire. The pasteurized stuff is just like supermarket apple juice—a big yuck!—whereas the unpasteurized stuff had a tang and a bite that went down well. We indulged at the cost of diarrhea during the early part of our trip, but it was worth it.
We hoped to find good apples in Quebec, but we were sorely disappointed. I guess there’s something about the soil of the Connecticut River valley that separates Vermont from New Hampshire that makes for great apples.
I dream of going back and spending more time in Northern New England.
Martine Feeding the Goats at the Oak Tree Village Petting Farm
Although she had not been feeling well the last couple of days, Martine insisted that today was a good day to drive the hundred miles to Oak Glen in the foothills around Mount San Gorgonio, not far from Palm Springs. For me, the main attraction were the Honeycrisp apples from Snow-Line Orchard. For Martine, it was a chance to have some of the best apple pie (and accompanying American comfort food) on this planet, and a chance to spend time at the little petting zoo in Oak Tree Village, feeding the goats, pigs, llamas, alpacas, zebus, emus, and other exotic and no-to-exotic animals. Except for the three hours of solid freeway driving, it was a win/win situation all round.
At the petting zoo, Martine returns to her childhood. She feeds the animals, admonishes the goats from butting into each other, urging the animals to pick up the corn kernels she is feeding them from the ground (she is afraid of putting her hands to their mouths). When she ran out of corn, she picked up pieces from the ground that other people—mostly children—had dropped, and tossing them into the cages for the animals to eat.
When she does this, I fade into the background, find a bench in the shade, and watch her enjoy herself—all the while imagining what she must have been like as a child. Martine has had a miserable year: Ever since January, she has been bedeviled by a combination of roaming muscular back aches and a lack of sleep. It has been variously diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or one of several related ailments. Her doctor is not quite sure what it is, and none of the medications prescribed have done much but result in a regular orgy of bad drug reactions. She was unable to go to Iceland with me in June, and is afraid of going anywhere where she has to sleep in a soft bed. At home, with have an extra firm mattress and an extra firm sofa in the living room.
So I like to indulge Martine whenever possible, and Oak Glen is close to being a plenary indulgence.