As I drove from Toronto to Milton in the Halton Hills, it occurred to me that this was the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic that I was actually going somewhere out of town.
Covid-19 had upended all my travel plans, large and small, virtually confining my wife and I to our home, garden and neighborhood.
Our attitude, in general, was to grin and bear it. We had to live with this terrible, transmissible virus, which has killed millions of people around the world. The new reality impinged on our lives significantly. We could rarely see our two dear daughters in person. We could not usually shop in stores. We could no longer go to restaurants. And of course, we could not travel, our last trip having been to Cuba in January 2020.
Two years on, the pandemic is far from over and may never really end. But having received all three vaccines and a booster, I feel safer. Nevertheless, I always wear a mask in indoor public settings and I avoid crowds whenever possible. I feel somewhat more confident that I can weather the storm.
Yet there are limits. I still will not step on a plane to fly to foreign destinations. But thankfully, I have not lost my appetite for travel. In this spirit, I decided to break out of my Covid-19 routine and take my first baby step toward normalization since the virus was officially classified as a pandemic in March 2020.
I accepted my daughter’s invitation to pick apples at Chudleigh’s, a well-known attraction near Milton, which is about 55 kilometres from Toronto.
We set out on a sunny and crisp afternoon on October 3. It was one of those glorious days that makes early autumn in Ontario pleasurable.
Chudeigh’s brought back a flood of memories.
When I was a young father more than three decades ago, my wife and I would occasionally drive there with our two daughters. We would spend a few hours picking apples and wandering around the grounds. Invariably, we would buy a Chudleigh-baked apple pie on our way out.
Thirty five years on, my older daughter and I reached the orchard in about an hour, braving occasional heavy traffic.
Much to my surprise, a $16 per head online admission ticket had to be booked in advance. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, if I recall correctly, admission was free. Since then, the cost of living has skyrocketed and our currency has been debased.
We arrived at around 1:30 p.m. Having fastened a blue plastic tag around our wrists, proof of payment, we entered the orchard.
The attendant, a middle-aged woman, told us that several types of apples, ranging from McIntosh and Northern Spy to Silken and Red Delicious, could be picked. I asked for samples, and she handed us slivers to taste.
Chudleigh’s, set on 25 hectares in a lovely corner of the province, has been in the tourist business since 1967. There are 47,500 apple trees, producing 22 varieties, on the property. The earliest apples appear in mid-August. The peak season runs from September to October, when the days are fairly warm and the nights are cool to cold.
The rows of trees are arranged by variety, with hand-painted signs directing you to the apples.
Being a Monday afternoon, Chudleigh’s was not crowded, as it usually is on the weekend. The majority of visitors were couples in their thirties with small children, exactly the demographic in my day as a young man.
The trees, under three meters in height, were much smaller than I had imagined, but I marvelled at the bounty of the land. Though modest in appearance, the trees were heavy with radiant apples glistening in the sparkling sunlight. With a quick upward movement of my wrist, I detached each apple from its stem so as not to damage next year’s crop.
Visitors pay $16 for a small plastic bag to fill to the brim. I suspect that apple prices in food stores are considerably cheaper, but this was not the point of the exercise.
I was here to savor the soothing, soul-satisfying experience of picking sun-ripe apples in a blissful orchard on an exquisite autumn day.
As I walked along another row of trees, I bit into a fresh McIntosh I had just picked, listening to its crackling sound and savoring its tart-sweet juiciness. There were many apples on the ground, and I wondered what their fate would be. Would they be simply discarded? Or would they used to make pet food, cider or jam?
Around the edges of the orchard, which led to a peaceful nature trail, the leaves on tall maple trees had already turned a brilliant yellowish scarlet. What a wonderful sight it was to observe these splendid trees in full bloom.
Plump pumpkins were on sale in another part of the orchard. My daughter bought two, as well an apple pie and two jars of locally-produced honey.
The following morning, after breakfast, I baked a cake with three Northern Spy apples. I haven’t tried it yet, but if it tastes as good as it looks, I will be delighted.