There is the day your friend visits and finds the trees heavy with fruit. Ripe. Rotten almost. The apples riddled with worms. You’ve let them drop to the ground. One after another. Hoping a bear will come. Or deer. To eat the apples.
Your friend says, you know these will make great cider, right? She squeezes one hanging from a branch. Picks another off the ground. Of course, you say, as if you knew. You have no press, you say. She has a press, she says, excited. A press but no apples.
She comes a few days later, with her press, in her small car. To make cider. You help pull the press and pieces from the back seat and trunk. Set up a folding table in the front yard. Just off the porch. In case it rains.
But the sun comes out. Just a little through the clouds. You pick apples off the tree. Big bags full. And off the ground. The best ones anyways. There are still the deer and bears, you say to your friend, who smiles and says, well I suppose. And just as you’re about to start, as you’ve assembled the press, found jugs and knives and pans and funnels, she says, crab apples. We should pick some crab apples.
So, you pile into her car and she drives down the road. Turns toward the forest, stopping just before the hemlocks and Doug firs. You can see them ahead. Shadowy and dark. You stop where people used to live. By the fruit trees. Two, three, four trees. All tangled together in a little open field of grass. Apple and crab apple and something else. Sweet cherry, maybe.
You pick one of the apples. It is sweet and crisp and free of worms. You try to identify. Honey crisp? Your friend picks a couple crab apples. One she bites. Small little bites. And makes a face, a sour face. But says it is good. She cuts the other. She shows you the cut crab apple. Seeds, she says. You can tell they are ripe because the seeds are turning dark. You pick one and bite into it. Taste the bitter. Then sweet.
She has brought a basket on a pole, a fruit picker. Wow, you say and watch her work the tree. Watch as she reaches up into the branches. Wild trees now, climbing high into the sky. She fills the basket again and again. This will make the cider even better, she says. Then it is your turn. You push the pole upward, above your head, toward the widening patches of blue. You can see the fog dissipating. See it moving out of the folds of the mountain as you fill the basket again and again.
I like best to make something out of nothing; your friend says and smiles at you. Like its free, she says. Scavenged.
You take turns harvesting apples and crab apples and then return to the press near the front porch of your house down the road from the wild trees near the forest. The sun shines broad and bold now for such a fall day. You take off your sweater and roll your sleeves up. Yellows jackets come as you cut open the fruit. As you start to press the fruit. The dog lays in the sun between you both. Sits up now and again and begs for apples and you toss her pieces.
Cut, grind, press, pour, taste. Push the red wheel. Turn the crank. Watch the pan fill. Cut, grind, press, pour, taste. Push the red wheel. Turn the crank. Discard the smashed fruit. Taste the juice. Sticky hands. Watch the pan fill. Sun on your back. Cut, grind, press, pour, taste. Push the red wheel. Turn the crank. Discard the smashed fruit. Taste the juice.
Something from nothing. Something sweet, and tart, and thin or thick and full of pulp. You fill jugs and water bottles and growlers. Fill the porch with them. A whole tree’s fruit, juiced and bottled. Thanksgiving, you say. You’ll freeze and bring them out then. And Christmas. She takes half. You the rest. Taste of summer. Taste of fall. Taste of time scavenged. Apple cider.