Autumn is just about the busiest time you'll ever see on a farm. Everyone is hustling to bring in the harvest and they sure work hard. After all the plowing and digging, patiently tending to seedlings and blossoms, worrying about the weather at last the farmer can reap his just reward and share the fruits of his labor with friends.
One cool, sunny day in late October Bumble the Bee and his best friends - Annabelle the Collie and Charlie the Goose - were hanging out in the clubhouse playing checkers.
"I don't care what anyone else thinks," Charlie the Goose said, "Fall is the best time of year."
"I agree wholeheartedly," barked Annabelle. "What about you, Bumble?"
"Well, springtime will always be my favorite, but I'll admit that fall is hard to beat," Bumble said as he double-jumped two of Annabelle's checkers. "I can't say the same thing about you and checkers though, Annabelle."
"After all," Bumble explained. "The Apple Harvest Festival is in the Fall."
"What do you do at an Apple Harvest Festival?" asked Charlie.
Bumble answered. "There are usually lots of jars of honey and jams to taste but the real attraction is the apples and all the great stuff that people make from them."
"Like apple sauce?" Charlie asked.
"Sure, some of the apples will be used for applesauce," Bumble nodded, "but homemade apple butter's much tastier if you ask me."
"What about candy apples?"
"Maybe, but there'll be something even better than that at the Apple Harvest Festival - baked apple dumplings! Why don't you all stop asking questions and let's go see for ourselves?" Annabelle asked.
The three friends took a shortcut through the orchard on the way to the festival. They remembered back to early summer when all the trees were full of bright, white blossoms and how, by August - the trees were brimming with a million round and yellow ornaments. Now most of the apples had fallen or been picked, and just a few soft, brown ones lay scattered around on the ground.
"Worm food," Charlie said, kicking one of the old apples. "Dare you to eat one, Annabelle."
"Ick! No thanks"
The festival was buzzing with activity when they arrived. People were lined up outside the barn eager to buy jars of apple butter, dumplings covered with caramel, pies, jugs of cider and, of course, apples by the bushel. They had every kind imaginable from Pippins to Granny Smith, Red and Golden Delicious, Gala, Rome Beauties, and even Crabapples, just to name a few.
Charlie gawked at the amazing variety. "Whoa! I had no idea there were so many kinds of apples!"
"You should pay more attention," Bumble told Charlie. "They grow every kind of apple under the sun in Virginia - some that you can't find anywhere else - and you fly right over them every day."
Charlie continued counting all the apples, and Bumble went off to watch a woman with a long-handled paddle slowly stirring a big kettle full of apple butter. Meanwhile, Annabelle's attention was drawn straight to the big, clumsy-looking cider-press. "How can that thing turn an apple into cider?" she wondered.
One person would dump a bucketful of apples into a bin on top while another person turned the handle on a big iron wheel. The apples disappeared into the belly of the machine where they were grated by a bunch of gears on their way into a barrel where they were finally squashed by a big, heavy iron press. Then a few drops of light-brown cider trickled down a little ramp into plastic jugs. Gradually the trickle turned into a stream, and the person at the other end was working hard not to waste any cider as they filled one jug after another.
Annabelle found a nice cider-puddle underneath the press. She slurped a little and it was simply love at first taste. It was cool and sweet, just a little bit tart, and perfectly refreshing. With a burp and a hiccup she set off to find a good spot for a nap.
She found a quiet, hay-covered corner in the barn, but to her surprise Charlie was already sitting there with both wings folded over his belly. He let out a low moan as Annabelle approached. "I decided to try each apple to see which one was the best," he groaned. "Big mistake. I think I have apple-itis."
"Me too," Annabelle agreed, flopping down in the hay. "Where's Bumble?"
Charlie pointed across the barn, where Bumble was chomping away on the biggest, sweetest snack that anyone could possibly assemble at the Apple Harvest Festival: a baked caramel-covered apple dumpling with a big scoop of apple butter on top and all coated in nice, golden honey with and a glass of cider on the side to wash it down.
Bumble looked over at his friends and chuckled to himself. "Amateur apple-eaters," he laughed, digging in for another bite.
Mike L. Ford is the author of historical novels for kids of all ages. A North Garden native, he now lives in beautiful Greene County with his wife Holly, their new baby, and their two dogs.