Saturday, October 14, 2006

Another Day, Another Adventure

My dad loved to show up unannounced. When we were traveling, we would often take long detours to visit people who didn't know we were coming. His idea of "in the neighbourhood" was something along the lines of "Well, we're closer to you here than we would have been if we were still at home, so what's another three hours out of our way to pop in on an old college friend?" Sometimes, I thought it was a waste of time and energy, to drive all that way out of our way, when it was already going to be late by the time we got to our intended destination, usually to visit people that I had never met before, and often to knock on the door of an empty house because the people we were trying to visit didn't know we were coming and had gone out for groceries or dinner or away for the weekend. We always left a note, and I somehow got the feeling that a hand-delivered note on the door, scrawled on the back of an envelope or whatever paper we could track down, was somehow almost as special as a proper visit. And in this day of instant messaging and next-day delivery, perhaps this is more true than ever. We didn't call in advance, because the possibility of being able to completely and utterly surprise an old friend was worth the risk of them not being there. Still, I always swore that when I grew up, I would at least call from down the street first, to make sure they were there, and dressed, and to give them five minutes' warning to shut the doors of their messiest rooms.

So yesterday, when Rachel and I made plans to go apple picking, and I had picked a place that was sortof kindof on the way to the area where my cousin lives, I threw my address book in the car, just in case we decided to drive up there and say "hi". I figured I'd play it by ear, and give her a call if it was looking like we had the time for a short visit.

We were planning on going to the Rodale Institute, near Kutztown, PA, which is the birthplace of organic farming. We figured we could get some healthy apples, and learn a thing or two while we were there.

Apple growers in the Northeast use more pesticides per acre than most any other farmers. Our apple orchard was begun as a research project to try and develop alternatives to battle the more than 40 insect pests and 10 diseases that threaten the apple crop each year. A side effect of our research: lots of apples. We sell them to grocery stores, make them into cider and apple butter, and open our orchard up to the public as a pick-your-own farm each fall.

Unfortunately, the Rodale Institute only grows early apple crops, so we missed their apple picking by a good three weeks. Fortunately, the Kutztown area is so beautiful that it would totally have been worth the drive, even if we had just turned around and driven home right then and there. But we didn't. We browsed the bookstore a bit, bought some licorice, and asked the friendly woman at the front desk where she would go if she wanted to pick some apples in mid-October. She recommended a nice little family-run place a few miles north of there, wrote some directions down for us, and even printed out some information from their website for us. We thanked her, and started driving deeper into the countryside. And honestly, you could not have asked for a nicer fall day - crisp, cool, and sunny - for a drive in the countryside.

We found the little fruit stand, and pulled off the road, much to the relief of the car behind us who seemed to be less in awe of the beauty around us, and wanting to go slightly less below the speed limit. The stand was occupied by a young man in a beard, and his wife and daughter, who were eating sandwiches and playing with dolls. He gave us some baskets and showed us which trees would be best for picking at this time of year, and we filled our baskets with lovely Suncrisps and Idareds. We also bought some jams and cider, to round the trip out and further justify the expenditure of gas.

Since our last request for a local recommendation had proven so successful, we decided to ask the farmer's wife where she would recommend that we go for lunch. She gave us directions to a nice little family diner, a few miles north of where we were, which was, you may recall, a few miles north of where we started. After a tasty lunch, I consulted the map in my brain, and with all of those norths stacked on top of each other, it looked like we were relatively close to the town where my cousin lives. But the map in my brain is inherently unreliable, so I asked the waitress, and she confirmed that Walnutport was really close and really easy to get to. She gave us directions, and we were on our way.

Now you might be wondering why I didn't call my cousin first, to make sure she was home and dressed and all that. Well, the easy answer to that is that I looked in my address book and discovered that it only contained her address, and not her phone number. And I could have called directory assistance but there didn't seem to be a payphone in the diner, and I didn't want Rachel to have to pay the 411 fee on her cell phone. (So much better to pay for a wild goose chase in gas, right?) But really, I think I was becoming enamoured with the idea of just showing up unannounced, ever a romantic like my dad. So we set out driving for our third mystery destination of the day, with directions to the town, and only a vague memory of going to her house once before, several years ago.

We stopped at a gas station for directions, and I peeked at an area map while we were there to get my bearings. We started out towards where we had been told to go, but never passed the cross-street I was looking for, and soon ended up at an intersection we remembered having been at before we stopped for directions. So, we turned back towards the gas station, and this time, I told Rachel to go past the place the helpful strangers had told us to go, and continue to the next intersection, because I had noticed a sign for their church, and I felt like we could get to their house that way, although I really had no idea. And actually, it worked. It took us right to their house. And I don't know who was more surprised that it had worked: Rachel or myself.

But of course, my cousin wasn't home. So I left a note on her door, scrawled on the bottom half of the computer print-out of the directions to the Rodale Institute. Then we headed back the way we had come, wondering if we would be able to retrace our steps.

We had noticed several signs for a corn maze near the intersection that would have taken us to my cousin's church, so when we passed that corner again, we decided to follow the corn maze signs. Corn mazes are fun, and Rachel had never been to one before. What a great way to further justify the trip! We followed the signs, and they actually took us right to my cousin's church. As we turned into the parking lot, we noticed the hours for the corn maze, and we were at least two hours too early for it. We parked anyhow and decided to talk to the lady who was putting up the signs.

It turns out that the corn maze is part of a huge outreach thing the church is doing, called Maizefest. The woman I talked to said she knew my cousin well, and that they had actually stopped by about an hour earlier on their way out of town for the weekend. So, we had just missed them. Oh well. Then I remembered that one of my childhood friends from church camp in Canada (the "Danny" who pushed me in the lake in this post, in fact) is now a youth pastor at this very same church. I asked about him, but the maze lady told me that he was actually out of town, too. She offered to give me directions to his house, where I could visit with his wife, who also went to the same church camp in Canada as a child, but I didn't really know her all that well, and I declined. (My dad would have gone ahead and visited Kim, I'm pretty sure.) Kim's older brother is the music pastor at this church, but I didn't bother trying to track him down, either, he was a few years older than me at church camp, so I didn't know him very well either. But just in case you don't believe in conspiracies, let me tell you that there must be something up when that many people from the same Canadian church camp all end up at the same church in the middle of northeastern Pennsylvania farm country. I think we might try to go back for Maizefest next weekend, though. Anyone interested in coming along?

Rachel and I eventually found our way home, although we did get lost again on the way. We knew that we could take Mountain Road back to 309, and we were planning on taking 309 all the way back to my place, but we messed that up somehow and ended up on 248. At one point, we noticed that we were running parallel to the Turnpike, so we found ourselves another gas station full of helpful people who gave us directions and drew us maps and one who even volunteered to let us follow him to the Turnpike, since he was heading that way anyhow. Rachel bought a Pennsylvania road atlas while we were there, too, which essentially buffered us against having to need a map anymore, and we got home without further incident, waving goodbye to the helpful man who let us follow him when our paths diverged.

We didn't really have much energy left for making apple pie anymore when we got home, however, so we divided up the spoils of our apple picking adventure and played a game of Phase 10 instead. I guess I should start making apple sauce at some point today, since I have the day off, but it's a beautiful day outside, and the sun is shining, and the wind is blowing and it's calling out to me to have another adventure. Or at least to take a walk.


Kate said...

Great post! It was such a beautiful weekend. I'm glad you got to enjoy it.

Kelsey Catherine said...

Wow, sounds like quite the adventure! I forgot that Danny and Kim lived in penn.
I love to hear your stories about your dad. He was my favourite adult at camp...I'll never forget getting to fire his potatoe gun, and archery in the back field.
I hope things are well with you...we should make a plan to return to camp for family week...Ryan and his wife and kids will most likely join in...By the way, Ryan and Sarah are having a little boy, number 3, to the schmitz clan.

jd said...

I love hearing your stories about your Dad, too.