The Smell of Fall | Apple Picking in Sebastopol


I came out of my building and saw the spotted concrete… it rained? There are only two main seasons in the Bay Area– rainy and not rainy. Just this past week, it was still 85 and sunny. Perhaps I’ve just lost track of days and months, but I wasn’t expecting the rain quite yet. Undeterred, I drove under the gray skies to meet up with newlyweds Margaret and Eric and Margaret’s friend Stella, ready for our day trip. We were heading up to Sebastopol for some apple picking.

An hour or two later,  having driven through rain and back into gray but dry territory, we pulled up to Gabriel Farm, a relatively small organic farm specializing in apples and Asian pears. Eric said it first when we opened the car door– it smells like fall. The mix of a recent campfire, soggy trees and fragrant apples hung the air. Immediately, I was brought back to the sweet smell of mushy apples from my childhood. I remembered standing mesmerized as I watched the apple bits skins, seeds, and all, get pressed through a machine and transformed into cider. Apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and hayrides all came to mind– memories of autumn growing up in Michigan. And all at once, standing there on a farm in California, even without any dramatic red and orange leaves, I was surrounded by fall.

We set out into the orchard but quickly discovered we were at the tail end of the season, and it was going to be slim pickings.

None of the trees were climbable; no ladders and bucketfuls of apples like I remembered from apple picking when I was little. And most of the apples were deceivingly pretty on one side, only to be horribly deformed on the other. But Margaret and Eric did an excellent job despite the odds.

Luckily it’s all the more rewarding to actually find the one decent apple in the whole orchard. They also taste that much better when you’ve had to work for them. Stella shows off Eric’s perfect pick.

The orchard’s many Asian pear varieties. They were very delicious, and much prettier than the little scabby apples we had been looking at all morning.

After apple picking, we went to the local town of Graton for lunch at an adorable little restaurant. Margaret ordered french toast, Stella ordered pork ragout, and Eric and I both had huevos rancheros. Delicious.

And one more stop on the way back, a little roadside market, where Margaret and Eric picked up “Paul the pumpkin.”

And finally, a shot of the breathtaking vineyards as we drive back south on the highway. The vines were subtly turning a golden yellow, embracing the California version of autumn too.