Polishing a pink lady on my sleeve, I take a bite into my first fresh-picked apple of autumn. The crisp crunch echoes sounds of raspy, fallen leaves underfoot. Fall is apple-picking time.

It's a tradition I've adopted for the past handful of years, harvesting my own apples by the bagful at a local apple orchard. I delight in twisting firm fruits off woody stems, taking my time as I search for the best fruits.

My autumn apple pilgrimage marks a milestone each year, like the first glimpse of green leaves in spring, or catching the first firefly of summer. In harvesting these last fruits of the season-fuji, granny smith, rome beauty or braeburn-we can savor both the sweet and the tart of the year's harvest as we begin to reflect on the year.

All summer I had delighted in plucking blueberries, snapping off snow peas and picking sun-warmed tomatoes. My first green pepper of the year tempted a chipmunk to nibble it to pieces. My once-lush dill dried to a crisp during an August dry spell. A yellow cherry tomato plant surprised me in my flower bed, yielding sunburst-colored spheres of juicy fruit to pick as I arrived home.

Now, out in the orchard, I wander through summer's bounty one last time for the year. Apples mottled in reds, yellows and greens weigh down boughs of orchard trees, ripe and ready for harvest.

Make the most of autumn's golden afternoon sun and crisp air full of cricket symphonies; frosty mornings will soon have us reaching for warmer jackets. Choose a day that you can linger among rows of trees, breathe fresh air deeply, smell the autumn foliage and sample one of your selections. As you snack, adopt summer's slower pace one last time. Notice the birds skittering through the orchard trees, and flying south. Stop and turn skyward if a V of geese crosses overhead.

In this last foray out into farm and field-not unlike the lazy hikes and humid hunts for berries that made up summer days-take a mental picture to hold onto as cooler air settles across the East Coast.

Such traditions help us to keep track of a year's time, a comfortable annual routine that lets us know where and when we are.

It's at about this time, too, that the farmers' markets and the roadside stands of summer wind down for the year. Pick your own apples-or discover a late-season roadside stand-and you'll support local growers, extending your "Buy Local" momentum further into cooler weather. At some orchards, you can pick up mums, maize, gourds and pumpkins with your apples.

Pluck your own apples from local orchards, and you'll keep growers in business. With development and sprawl hungering to claim more fields and forests, farms need our help to stay growing year after year. Mega-grocery stores beckon us with a dream-world of produce, including apples trucked in from Washington and elsewhere beyond the mid-Atlantic. Our local farms need our support.

Plus, there's virtue in baking pies, drizzling caramel over fresh-cut wedges or stewing homemade applesauce-with apples nurtured at a local orchard. Visit different orchards from year to year, visiting at various times during the fall. Sample new varieties and find your favorites. The more tart, the better for baking. The sweeter, the better for munching.

Pick a variety of apples to keep heaped in a bowl at home, too. It's the apple-the most humble of fruits-that suggests homecoming, simpler times. Bringing this last harvest of the year indoors will help set the stage for upcoming family gatherings. Cozy into a mug of warm cider, or pack an apple on a journey away from home.

Revel in the apples of autumn and you'll weave summer's last fruit into the fabric of fall.