You can have the endless sunny days and T-shirt weather in October; I miss fall. I miss crisp air, crackling leaves, raking – yes, I miss raking! I miss those huge smell good piles that were good for a few jumps before bagging. I miss proper hand-sized oak tree leaves turning yellow from one end to the other. I miss apples – those crisp apples with so much juice that you couldn’t help but squirt or dribble a little with every satisfying crack of a bite.
So every year when school would start, and the temperature would still be in the 90’s – I would pack Bella (and a sundry collection of other people’s kids) up for the day and head down to Oak Glen, about an hour from Joshua Tree, and up in the mountains from Beaumont. We would always head straight for Oak Knoll Park, a little-known oak grove park, located far behind Los Rios Ranch. We would pass milling throngs around the front entrances of a half dozen other orchards – pumpkin piles spilling over with kids – turn into Los Rios, which was always just as busy because of their famous apple pies, pull into the far back parking lot, follow a little gravel road over a stone bridge, to its end and park. Despite the crowds elsewhere, Oak Knoll Park is nearly always empty and serene. (It’s amazing how few steps off the beaten path it takes to get away from the crowds.)
I’m sitting at a picnic table. My immediate view is sun-dappled grass and the trunks of evenly scattered old oaks. Just beyond I can see the tops of the trees on the side of the next ridge. The leaves haven’t started turning yet, but the air is chilly and turning my fingers stiff. I can hear an intermittent woodpecker – not too industrious – and the occasional chuckle from the only other group taking advantage of this park; an older group having a BBQ and picnic.
I don’t have much time; I’m picking up a couple apple pies and bag of apples for a friend and getting a bushel for my own household. I can’t wait for the pleasure of cutting and serving a fresh Oak Glen apple after dinner tonight; my mouth is watering in anticipation.
I love this place and every year I swear I’m coming back several times before Halloween, but I’ve rarely made it more than once a season. Better go and take a few deep breaths, because I might not be back again until next year.