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Here in the north country, we have a good chance to live a simple life. We have a lot of examples of this. The frogs sit on a floating leaf for much of the day. The turtle finds a place in the sun on a rock and seems to be sitting there since the rock was formed beneath him. Flowers grow up into the light and we gather a few for a vase or a bowl. When we walk by, they look proud to be part of our simple life now.
I just planted spinach seeds a few days ago and they have sprouted. Their small curled leaves will be our fall salad and sandwich greens. When my youngest daughter was small, she would make a stack of spinach leaves and bite down on them to feel the crunch. She really liked that a lot. Every time I turn to the garden to weed a little, plant a little, and harvest a little I feel the simplicity of a garden and how it grows on me.
The apples are ripening and dropping. I went over to a tree to collect a few, and there was a deer eating them before I got there. I said “good morning” to the deer, and she looked up at me and then kept eating apples. When there were no more, she looked up to the tree, and the tree dropped a few more for her to eat. There is so much going on around us. We should only have the eyes to see it.
Our pine nut trees have cones way up in the tree tops now. Their individual seeds are fatter than the white pines, so we can easily crack them and get the high protein tasty nuts. But how do we get them down from high up in the trees? The squirrel will soon be knocking them down, so he can get the pine nuts. We must be vigilant to notice when the first cones come down so we can gather some, too. Otherwise, we will see the squirrel sitting happily and proudly cracking and eating one pine nut after another.
A few years ago, I learned this method of getting the best hazelnuts and pine nuts: I put an old rubber boot inside a shed near the pine nut tree and the hazelnut bushes in late summer. The squirrel was searching for the best spot to store his prize nuts for winter. All options were checked out, but then he went inside the boot and I imagine him thinking, “Ah, perfect, rain won’t get in, it is dark, I can turn around inside, and it will fit a lot of these small nuts.”
A month later, I found a great stash of nuts in the boot and took most of them for planting to make new trees for our nursery. They already had their husks off and were down on the ground level and all cleaned and ready for planting. Because I am grateful to the squirrel for helping me as a horticulturist, I brought him a bag of nuts in the shell from the store in town. I had what I wanted and he had a good supply of larger and very good tasting nuts from further away than he would ever travel.
We have been gathering apples all week to press into cider. We also press pears and black currants and northern kiwi berries into our cider. We take the apples and grind them and then add a layer of the other fruit and press it by turning a little metal handle until the fresh pure juice comes streaming out. We freeze it within minutes so this autumn day will be tasted in each bottle.
On our table at home is a vase of flowers from the garden and the field. Next to it is a fancy bottle filled with our pressed fruit cider. We can feel the essence of the summer, of the autumn, of the simple life all around us. One sip at a time.
David Fried is a writer, cider maker and grower of hardy fruit and nut trees and Vermont natives at Elmore Roots Nursery in northern Vermont.
Painting by Joyce Dutka