It’s October in Michigan. The pale, mossy-colored fields lined with skinny trees in tangled rows. Scarlet dotting the wild leaves, peeking out like a secret. The air is light and sharp, the chill nestled in between the knits of your sweater. The surrounding trees are ablaze in bonfire shades. Donut in one hand, cider in the other. For Michiganders, October is not a month — it’s a tradition. October isn’t understood in days or events. It’s understood in memories. All of the dirt roads and trails that lead through the tumbling October airs of yesterday lead Michiganders to one place: orchards.
Apples decorate the bushels of my memory. My father worked on an apple orchard when I was a kid. My childhood is filled with the faint recollections of trees and pumpkins. Scattered around in my head is hay and cinnamon. Haunted hayrides and canvas bags full of apples — these are the things that made me. Each October brings with it the sweet scent of Gala or Ambrosia. Without them, I don’t imagine I would be the same. I don’t imagine Michigan would be the same, either.
My father worked at Miller’s Big Red, an orchard that’s been resting on a sprawling 90 acres of Washington, MI land since around since 1876. He used to take me to work with him, letting me ride on the back of the tractor or follow him around while he tended to the trees. He let me try the cider he would make, or pick apples down off branches for me. In many ways, I was raised on orchards.
Michigan is the third-largest producer of apples in the country. It produces, by far, the most apples in the Midwest. With over 11 million trees across 825 family farms, the Mitten is an autumnal cornucopia. Michigan’s orchards rest in a palm of plenty, cradled in the insulating embrace of the Great Lakes. Please try Blake Farms in Armada. They’ve been providing pomaceous delights to Macomb County since 1946. Or perhaps Franklin Cider Mill in Bloomfield Hills. It’s an old-style cider mill in a wooden-building where they press their own apples. A creek runs through it. If you don’t go there for the cider, you ought to go for the beauty. Maybe Dexter Cider Mill is more your taste, with its honored spot as the oldest continually operating orchard, operating along the Huron River.
Pies and fritters. Cider and donuts. Turn the fruit into butter or pick them right off the tree and eat them. Apples make autumn worth experiencing. For some, apples symbolize the fall of man. For Michigan, it’s the last beautiful thing we get all year. It’s our most valuable fruit crop. It feeds our deer. It’s the treat we get for making it through a whole year.
Whether you’re in Michigan for a lifetime or a moment, it’ll stay with you. You don’t have to be born and raised here to be one of us. You’re a Michigander so long as you love this place. If you’ve made it through a whole year in Michigan, you’ve earned an October. Go to an orchard. Pick an apple. Scoop up a pumpkin. Drink some cider. Make Michigan your own by making some Michigan memories. When you bite into a honeycrisp that you just picked off a tree, with the chill of an October gust hugging you under the arms, you’ll know where you belong. You deserve it. Welcome home.