"Apple Days," Renee Whitlock-Hemsouvanh (2006)
The rows of blossoming apple trees each spring were a beautiful sight. We would drive through a sea of blossoms that reported to the west county residents that spring had arrived. The smell of fresh earth, newly sprouted grass and the distinct scent of the orchard are now only a symbol of childhood for many who grew up during the Sebastopol apple days.
Spring was a time for joy. The symbol of the future abundance bloomed. Seeing the first blossoms arrive on the trees was not only a treat for the eyes but for the soul. This was the invitation for families to get together to tour the neighborhoods. In apple country, these neighborhoods were the apple farms. Stepping onto the ground we were bombarded with the sensory display, the faint smell of apple blossoms, the smell of the damp earth and the sheer beauty of the once naked trees now blooming with life. Children would stare in wonder, mesmerized by the display. Parents looked to one another with knowing glances, remembering their own feelings as a child.
Tromping thorough the apple orchard in the summer, plucking a crisp juicy piece of fruit from the tree or even the ground was pure heaven. No need to wash, just rub the fruit on you shorts and savor the crunchy sweet flavor. Even, the odor of the apple cannery, which was strong and foul, is a welcome memory, a reminder of our agricultural roots. Those of us who were the farmers welcomed the photos and the appreciation for our hard work. We knew our neighbors, who were acres and miles away, on a first name basis because we shared the same commonality of being apple people. We waved to each other as we tilled the orchards and pruned the trees. Farmers put out bins of apples and a scale set back a bit from the winding country roads. On the apple stands were a box and paper bags with a sign that said "50 cents a pound." We were on the honor system to pay for what we took, and we did.
Now when I am driving through my old quaint town, I take the back roads for a glimpse of the past, only to see the apple orchards with the friendly farmer replaced with vineyards and mega-mansions. The fields are fenced with fancy iron gates to prevent people from crossing the land like my brother and I did on many a childhood adventure. Affixed to these fences are signs that read “KEEP OUT” or “NO TRESSPASSING” as if this land cannot be shared. The town that once was a community has become to a place of exclusivity and seclusion, to be coveted and withheld from others.
Even the most sociable of events, the Apple Blossom Parade has changed. Children once felt a buzz of excitement when they saw the first blossoms, the first tangible reminder that our town Apple Blossom Parade and festival were almost here. The Apple Blossom Parade was the town event that centered on our apple heritage. School children prepared costumes and music. Moms dads, aunts, and uncles all enjoyed the planning of the festival. The local business people contributed with donations and even had their own floats. The School band practiced marching and music and welcomed the friendly competition from neighboring schools. Then it was parade day rain or shine. Even the rain did not spoil our splendor. I marched down Main Street for 7 years in the school band and in the rain for at least four. At the finish, we would run back down to Main Street so we could watch the remainder of the displays. Generations of families would converse parade side. Friends of my parents and grandparents would stop me and ask about my family, and congratulate us on how well we performed. The competition of the parade was secondary to the exuberance we felt about our participation. Now when I go to the parade I still feel the same excitement but it comes from within. Families stick to small groups on the sidewalk and familiar faces are hard to come by. Walking along the parade route, I see the perfect families with their manicured appearance. We see the bohemian look with the cotton natural clothing that now seems to be a status symbol. The street is littered with expensive cars sparkling in the sun as if they have never been driven.
Our small town is a symbol of something that once was but no longer exists. Our apple growing days are all but lost in the west county. Sadly, many of our apple orchards no longer remain. Sebastopol maintains the reputation for being a small, friendly place to live. And while this may be true, we are lacking in the personality and essentially the people that created this town and the community itself. All things must come to and end, but I am still heart broken to see all of the life and goodwill, hard work and dedication of the people who created the wonderful community slowly blowing away as freely as the blossoms of the apple trees in the wind.