First—and I cannot stress this enough—do not sleep through a Fall Sunday morning. Personally, I have no choice: my body wakes me up in the early hours no matter how much I owe in sleep debt. This quirk may be personal—developed over my many years of Sunday morning churchgoing. However, I like to think that it points to a larger, possibly biological, refusal to let me miss even a portion of New England’s most essential season. Regardless, if you do not have an internal clock or the benefit of a habit, set an alarm. Fall mornings in New England are unrivaled, full of crisp color and crisper air.
After you’ve woken up, clear your schedule and go apple picking. The stress and time crunch of midterms should be your reasons to get off campus and go picking, not your reasons to avoid the adventure. So lock your stress in your dorm room and head off-campus.
Rent a Zipcar (look in the lot behind Andrews or J. Walter Wilson) and visit an orchard. Or, if you have parents in the area, take them. Rather, let them take you. After months of sitting in the driver’s seat, worrying about classes, extracurricular activities and jobs, let your parents drive. Content yourself with the powerlessness of your passenger status. Cede control. Look out the window and appreciate how the city seamlessly gives way to the ever-changing trees.
If the woods get too lovely, too dark, and too deep, as they did for me, my friend and his parents, and you find yourself on the wrong road, enjoy the sensation of being lost. We intended to start picking at Jaswell’s Farm, but no matter where we turned, the fields kept their distance, always beyond our grasp and separated by a white picket fence. After rushing past a second orchard on the wrong side of the highway, we found ourselves in the grass parking-lot of Steere Orchard. This freedom to wander adds to a sense of adventure. When you do eventually arrive at the orchard, take a moment to drink in your surroundings. Most Rhode Island orchards have an oasis quality: stuck behind gas stations or abandoned houses, they open you up to a rich natural beauty, where lines of trees slope downhill until they disappear as specks in the distance. For me, it was also a time to register the complexity of the Providence community. Apple-picking draws a diverse crowd. I saw a giggling school-group, a few young couples, and at least one extended family ribbing each other in Spanish, as they rode the tractor to go pick. These orchards seem to have seen people from every walk of life.For that very reason, make sure to talk to the owner. There are nine orchards within a 30-minute drive of Brown: Two have been open for over 200 years and one has been in the same family for five generations. These places are steeped in history and their owners want to tell their stories. One owner, robed in a white beard and a warm flannel brought his dog out to pet as we talked cider doughnuts and the changing of the seasons.
After whetting your appetite with all this conversation, get down to business. Go out to fields. If you’re looking for the best fruit, push past the outside branches and reach for the middle of the tree. Eager hands have already picked over the outside branches but leave juicy apples untouched in the center. If you are as kitschy as I am, push your way to the center of the tree and spend a moment, hugged by the branches, enjoying the quiet.
As you pick, eat all the apples you can. This advice is practical. Most places charge by the pound, or give you a bag to fill, but they can’t make you pay for the apples you eat along the way. Plus, an apple plucked directly from a tree, with the dew still on the outside, sets a standard for how fruit should taste.
But, this advice is also a spiritual prescription. The actual motions of apple picking are the least important part of the adventure. The purpose of the trip is not to come back with a bushel of Mackintoshes and a gallon of cider—even though they are a delightful addition. Rather, the reason to clear your hectic schedule and to travel out to apple orchard is to spend an hour or two away from the rush of college and appreciate the slower turning of the natural world. In this vein, also notice the small details of the orchard—the well trodden paths between rows of trees and the rotting apples; taking time to observe is a wonderful way to appreciate.Finally, and most, importantly, go with someone tall. Not every orchard has ladders or hooks, so bring the human version. My 6’5” friend was the perfect addition.
Go picking, and if you’re having trouble deciding where to go, consider one of these three.
Go for: The Cider Donuts & History
The oldest farm in this set, Knight Farm has been in operation for over 200 years. Despite a recent change in owners, the apples are as good ever. The thirty acres of orchards include varieties ranging from Macintosh to Golden Delicious. If you are looking for a more refined snack, visit the delectable little café on the property. If you arrive early enough (before 1:30pm) and are hungry enough, enjoy a fresh farm breakfast. The fresh omelets are a specialty. And, of course, go for the cider donuts: brushed with cinnamon sugar, they are ridiculously delicious and dangerously cheap. Wash them down with a gallon of apple cider on your way out.
(1 Snake Hill Rd, North Scituate, RI 02857)
Go for: The Grand Natural Beauty
If you firmly believe in the restorative properties of apple picking, need convincing about the restorative properties of apple picking, or simply want space from the frenzy of midterms and paper writing, go to Dame’s. With over a hundred acres of apples, the farm is one of the largest orchards in Rhode Island. Take your chance to find a niche and get lost in endless rows of trees. Enjoy wading through a field of cheery sunflowers and then taking scenic Instagram pictures. If you want a more tangible souvenir, bring back memories of happy Halloweens by visiting their pumpkin patch, picking your own, and bringing it back to the dorm.
(91B Brown Ave Johnston, RI 02919)
Go for: The Apples
Can you tell the difference between Pacific Rose and a Lady Alice with your eyes closed? Do you care about the quality of your fruit above all else? Are you, in short, an apple connoisseur (or an apple snob)? If so, head to Steere Orchard. The farm features a dozen types of apples—the most of any place on this list—and cultivates enough acres to guarantee that there will still be delicious finds for latecomers. Admittedly, other entertainment is a little sparse (you won’t have the chance pick your own pumpkin here) but the apples stand on their own: crisp, delicious and worth every bit of your time.
(50 Austin Ave, Greenville, RI 02828)