Saturday, October 1, 2011

The art of the orchard, and of letting go

The second apple shipment has arrived, and just in time for the weather to turn grey and rainy and nesty. The colors are pretty close to what I see outside my window now. Lots of trees beginning to turn, other branches already bare, the grass sprinkled with crisp leaves as if someone had emptied out a bag of potato chips on the lawn.

If I learned anything from the last shipment, it was not to judge an apple by its exterior. The prettiest apple of them all turned out to be somewhat disappointing in taste and texture. And the skankiest, most pockmarked runt of them all? Spectacular.

Thus I welcome this new shipment with open arms. All the apples were grown organically. They aren't the beefy Iceberg-lettuce apples we find in our grocery stores. They have spots and lumps and all those things that would naturally happen if we didn't intervene with chemical after chemical. They smell like fall, and carry names like Milden, Red Baron, Sweet Sixteen, and Chestnut.

There's an apple called Red Blaze, which originated from one branch of a tree Francis Fenton had growing on his property in Mercer, Maine. The sample here came from one of the only Red Blaze trees in the world. Apparently if I cut it open I'll see a small red stain by the flower end - hence the name Red Blaze.

Meanwhile, if I cut open the Sweet Sixteen and take a bite, I'm told I'll taste cherry lifesavers and a hint of licorice. [Updated upon sampling: It really does taste like cherry lifesavers and a hint of licorice. Amazing!] Also, the gigantic Wolf River longs to be sliced and dried.

I feel as if I've stumbled upon a parallel apple universe to the wool one that I know and love so well, with each variety bringing such varied results, and with so many being overlooked by the mainstream. Two shipments in and I'm already positively bored by the apple offerings at my grocery store.

What will these become? I'm open to any ideas you may have. I did not succeed in eating every single apple from the last shipment, but I did pretty well. Two batches of applesauce, an apple cake, and a particularly succulent tray of apple and candied pecan caramels that were handed out to sugar-cravers at Vogue Knitting Live in Los Angeles last week.

The apple/caramel connection definitely deserves more exploration. What do you think of drying some of those elephant-sized slices of Wolf River and then drizzling them with caramel, sprinkling them with a hint of fleur de sel, and wrapping each one in wax paper for safekeeping? If I time it right, I can give them away at the NY State Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, where I'll be celebrating the launch of my third book. Yes, I think I'd like that.

The process of writing a book, and then having your little Word file become an actual three-dimensional book with a life and presence all its own... it's a surreal experience. Deeply challenging and immensely rewarding, but surreal. This last part, the final few weeks leading up to the release, are like the quiet before the storm. You know you should be doing things. Shooting clever promotional videos. Writing brilliant blog posts. Planning ingenious publicity stunts. Stir the pot! Keep the machine going! Productize on the wordification! Sell sell sell!

You also know that once this book is out there, you are exposed. Something very tender and personal is now up for public display. You knew that going into this, but now it's real. People await in the bushes, slingshots at the ready, eager to point out any and all shortcomings. Without realizing quite what's happened, your work has suddenly become an unwitting contestant on American Idol.

Thus I am savoring this last tender moment my book and I have alone together, just the two of us. As it enters the world, it will become something else. I have to let it go. For its sake, but also for my own so that I, too, can begin to move on.

But the least I can do is give it a proper send-off, make sure it has clean laundry, its cell phone is charged, it has a full tank of gas, all the tires are properly inflated.

"Call me when you get there," I'll say for the umpteenth time, knowing that, even then, the call will be rushed, distant, different.

At the last minute? I'll tuck a bag of homemade Claramels where it'll be discovered, perhaps, during a rest stop on the New York Thruway. In one bite, all the flavors, the depth and nuance and subtlety of layered spice and sweet and chew will come together to express all that I couldn't possibly find a way to say in words.