Monthly Archives: December 2013

Family Trees

Some time ago, my father-in-law suggested that I might make an attempt at brewing hard apple cider. Burt had eaten my homemade meals, read about my research in brewing biofuels, noted the trends in the beer and wine industry, and synthesized one of his best ideas ever (apparently Elizabeth was an accident). I agreed that cidermaking was something I should try… but I dawdled for over a year before starting my first batch.

Why did I put aside his suggestion for so long? Why did I follow my first employer to California? Why did I wait five years before putting a ring on my wife’s finger? Because I am obsessed with escalating the degree of difficulty of my own life.

Buying a gallon of apple juice from the supermarket and adding a packet of brewer’s yeast wasn’t stimulating enough for me. I needed a project that touched on issues historical, genetic, socioeconomic, and familial. I didn’t want to make cider from the contents of a shopping cart. I wanted cider fermented from sunlight, and the air and soil of some secret archetypal garden. I wanted to brew something significant.

Last year my parents invited Elizabeth and I to Agate, WA to see my great-grandparent’s homestead, which had lain neglected since I was very young.

Orchard in Winter 1950The Agate Orchard in Winter, circa 1950

The Orchard, Spring 2012

The orchard 60+ years later. From left to right: A sample of surviving apple, plum and pear trees in Spring.

The orchard there (est. 1934) and I (est. 1984) had for 20 years been awaiting each other.  Since my parents were busy remodeling the house and hauling away the refuse of 85 years, I requested the care of the fruit trees in exchange for the harvest… all of it… as well as permission to plant another orchard of my own design.

Tree Condition, Spring 2012

An old Northern Spy Apple. This tree was carelessly sawed back and left to grow tangled branches with a drooping habit.  The weak and twisted growth will be pruned, the upright and healthy saved and allowed to bear fruit.

We walked the orchard together, the apple blossom falling and the warden blossom full throughout that orchard in the forest. My mind was flooded with possibilities of future work and reward.


Blossom of a European Pear of excellent flavor but unknown variety.  This particular tree is in poor health, but will be saved by grafting a branch onto new roots.

We drove over the bridge and through the woods toward home, where I learned myself everything there was to know about planting, growing, and pressing apples for cider.