Apples to apples

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Today, despite the most un-October-like heat and humidity, some of us in the Honors Student Association went on an apple-picking mission to the Beak & Skiff orchard (“‘Beacon Skip’? What? What kind of a name is that?”), about twenty-five minutes south of Syracuse. The orchard itself is big, and beautiful, and they have a killer per-pound rate for the pick-your-own stuff, but let’s think about this for a second: Honors students. Apple picking. On your list of Fun Things To Do, it’d probably fall somewhere between clipping your toenails and making EasyMac – it’s just not, I imagine, the most exciting of prospects for most people, is what I’m saying. It doesn’t exactly sound like rock n’ roll, does it?

But you’ve never met these Honors students.

Cut to Rachel in the driver’s seat, belting the lyrics to “Good Morning Baltimore” from the Hairspray soundtrack as we make our way towards I-81, speeding just enough to almost lose the others in Steph’s top-down convertible behind us; I’m riding shotgun, giggling behind the rolling camcorder that Steve-from-the-Honors-Program made me take along, to “document” our “activities.” And…well, let’s just say the resulting footage won’t be making its way into a family-oriented documentary anytime soon.

Well, first, we accidentally pull into the Beak & Skiff winery, which, heh. Insert obligatory drunken-college-student humor here, eh, okay, moving on. (Really, though, leave it to the Honors students to fail at reading the Google Maps instructions.) Back on the road, “Dude, that was totally the place.” “Oops.” “So…apple picking, attempt three?” “Hey, there’s Steph. She…passed it too. Hey! Turn around! We missed it!”

After we park, the first thing we see when we exit our vehicles are…goats. Climbing a…house? I…what? Okay. Maggie promptly steals my phone to call her dad: “Daddy, there are goats and I want one. But…even if I fed it and watered it every day? I promise I would! Daddyyyeeee.” The rest of us are laughing too hard to figure out where to go, what exactly we have to do to gain access to the mystical land of fruit that’s actually on, you know, trees. We wend our way obnoxiously among the kindergarten field trips and adorable old couples until we reach a hut with very explicit instructional signage. It still takes us five minutes of dysfunction, impromptu photo shoots, and loud debates re: the relative merits of Cortland vs. Macoun apples before we figure out that hey, this is actually where we’re supposed to be.

To get to whichever picking grounds (“picking grounds”? Really?) are open, one must ride out on a flatbed trailer, towed behind a big ol’ tractor. Hilarity ensues. We make fun of Maggie for growing up on a farm. Maggie makes fun of the tractor for being a John Deere (“I’m a Ford girl.”). The other people on the ride make fun of us for singing all the verses of “I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas.” I make fun of myself for totally failing to operate the camcorder like a competent person. It’s like a hay ride, minus the allergies, plus the crazy. Awesome.

It’s when we get to the Cortland picking grounds that I realize I’ve never been in a proper orchard before; it is very green, and shady, and each row frames a beautiful view of the Central New York hills. I’ve never seen a more ideal place for just sitting under a tree with a book, or maybe taking a bit of a snooze. But of course, we overworked, hyperactive college-kids-let-loose have other plans.

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Short-lived games of hide-and-seek that end in apple-mush all over Steph’s butt; the mysterious armpit wound (initial diagnosis: bee sting); underwear show-and-tell. We forgot to even think about bringing sunscreen, so we all try to stick to the shade, but I can tell that the back of my neck is already toast. We’re loud and giggly, but there are these intermittent pockets of silence where you can tell each of us is kind of wondering at the fact that oh my god, so many apples. It’s beautiful.

There’s the Oh, I Can Totally Reach That One fiasco, in which I underestimate my jumping ability, a number of ill-advised cheerleading techniques are attempted (Colin: “But…what exactly is a ‘half’? I don’t…” Maggie: “I don’t care. Just go.”), much swearing takes place, Maggie is dropped from a great height, and many many apples rain down upon our heads. Jeanette got it all on tape. Genius. (I don’t think we even got the original apple we were going for.)

“Did you…just throw an apple at me?” “Yes.” “Ow. They’re kind of hard.” “Thaaat’s what she said!” “…Dude.”

Katie and I are thirsty. The Other Maggie has mono. “This one’s so little. Aw.”

Rachel, wading into the trees with her trusty camera. Steph, adopting a Crocodile-Dundee-esque persona before the camcorder as the unofficial “host.” Posing for pictures with the tractors. Naps among the apples (“apple napples”). The gift shop with its apple salsa and amazing apple-pie fudge. Sparkling cider/vanilla ice cream floats. “Where’d the freshmen go?” Mr. Tumnus references. The sun slanting beautifully through the branches; long, impossibly lush grass. “How d’you like them apples?” “That was funny once.”

Apple picking. Seriously. Best seventy-two cents per pound you’ll ever spend. Go; you won’t be disappointed. And remember to take sunscreen.

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