One of the great things about Chicago is how easy it is to get out of Chicago. It takes an hour or less to get to suburban malls, Indiana Dunes State Park, Valparaiso University (because it's awesome), Michigan's wine country, and the lake communities of southern Wisconsin.
You can also end up surrounded by farms and fields, as a group of us did yesterday. To mark the beginning of fall, seven of us drove out to an apple orchard near Portage, Indiana. It's one of those wonderful, Midwestern tourism locales that only opens for a few weeks in the fall. You know, it has Corn mazes, a petting zoo, hay-rack rides, pumpkin picking, and a store full of apple cider and jarred comfort foods. Oh, and there's apple picking. Well, there's usually apple picking. The weather this year did a number on most of the farming industry, and it seems the orchards weren't exempt. Only 30% of their expected crop survived the late frost and persistent drought, so there wasn't really much to pick.
So, we wandered the orchard for a bit, searching for the few red beauties floating near the tops of the trees. We shook a few branches and picked up the apples that fell, which made for an adventurous alternative to the abundance we're all used to. The orchard was actually in fairly good spirits about the whole situation. They worked all summer to source apples from other orchards, which they put in rain-gutter troughs hung in the trees, with the 2012 slogan, "It's Raining Apples!"
It was nice to see the orchard keeping their spirits up in the midst of an autumn which is proving to be anything but abundant for farmers in the Midwest. Though our apple-picking excursion became an apple-picking-up excursion, it was great to get out of the city to get a little taste of the optimism of a completely different, though very nearby, culture.