During my childhood, there was a stretch of several years when, during the fall, my mom, sister and I would drive out to Sauvie Island. We’d park in the grassy lot at the Bybee-Howell house and pick up windfall apples from the antique apple orchard there. We weren’t allowed to pick any off the trees, they used those to make apple cider for the annual Wintering In Festival, but anything that was on the ground was fair game. We’d bring the dog, several brown paper bags and a picnic lunch (if it wasn’t too cold) and spend several hours breathing in the heady fumes of apples as they turned to booze.
Toasty, our dog at that time, loved fruit and so would zig zag between our legs with a half-chewed apple in her mouth. I took my job as apple scavenger very seriously, filling my bag until it threatened to tear under the weight of the apples. Occasionally I’d lose my footing for a moment on a rotting apple, but even that seemed unthreatening, just a small price to pay for free apples.
The orchard was always quiet, any sounds from the road muted by the fallen leaves and the curve of the hill. In my memory, it was always overcast in that way that is unique to Oregon, with mist that sometimes turned into drizzle. Occasionally a sunbeam would glow through the moisture, illuminating the entire orchard with diffuse light that made us feel like we were on stage, play about to begin.
The Bybee-Howell farm is the highest point on Sauvie Island and was the place that residents from all over the island would gather during the yearly floods, back in the days before the dike was built that controlled the river. I learned that when I was nine, when they still offered tours of the old farm house. I also remember that throughout the house, the door knobs were lower than seemed practical, because during the time that the house was built, it was the fashion that ladies be able to just skim the tips of their fingers along the knobs.
When we were done, we’d carefully scrap mud and bits of apples off our shoes and head for home with our scavenged goody bags. Later that day, my mom would get down to the business of washing, peeling and chopping the apples (carefully cutting around any yucky bits), making four or five gallons of apple sauce before she was done. All that apple sauce would get loaded into zip top bags and stacked in the freezer, so that we’d have sauce to last us until the next fall.