Apples, art and ebooks

Published 6:27 am Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gordon Quinlan likes the taste of the Pink Lady apples best, and he spent a decade working in orchards, in the natural beauty he now photographs for his website,

“For many years, I worked in apple and pear orchards, and cherry orchards, too, in California, Oregon, and Washington,” Quinlan said. “I loved being outdoors in all seasons and all kinds of weather. I remember pruning trees one Christmas when the trees were covered with a slick of ice.”

Quinlan has a degree in English from Notre Dame, and was raised in Connecticut, but working in the orchards opened his senses in ways that no office environment could touch.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“One of the things I loved was the harvest season, when thousands of people flooded into the valley,” he said. “The pressure of getting the fruit off the trees in time generated a feeling of cooperative work and excitement that made all of our lives come alive in a way I rarely experienced any place else.”

For a while, he followed the harvest.

“One day, during harvest, Mount St. Helens blew up, and the volcanic ash from the explosion covered the trees in the orchard, but the fruit still had to be harvested, so we bought gas masks or covered our faces with towels or bandanas and worked as long as we could stand it. We got the crop in and saved the farmers’ investment,” he said.

“It was very exciting and fun.”

Times of deep peace also permeated the hard physical labor of working in the orchard.

“In Hood River, Oregon, a large flock of geese would fly over the tops of the trees when we worked in the treetops. We could hear and feel the wings of the Canada geese, and hear them calling back and forth to one another. It was a magical, quintessential scene, and I loved it very much,” he said.

The workers shared a purpose and a deep sense of community. They worked hard together, and they played hard together, too.

“I had good friends on the orchard. We had a small community of workers, mostly hippies and Mexicans who hung out together, supported one another, and had a really good time,” he said. “I was into music, playing guitar, writing songs and singing, so whatever we did together was always full of music.”

During the 1960s, he was involved in the anti-war movement, and wrote for and helped publish an underground newspaper in Los Angeles, called The Free Venice Beachhead.

“I still look back on those times as an era when the world was alive in a way that it hasn’t been since then,” Quinlan said.

After retiring from working in the orchards, Quinlan put many of his poems together in a book titled Blue Smoke Spirals from the Chimney, published by Coal City Press and available on

“It expresses my feeling that a lot of blue, sad feelings spiral from the soul. The poems represent difficult feelings that arise,” Quinlan said.

His poetry, like his photographs, appear under his pseudonym of Joe Mulligan.

“In my photos, I’m trying to capture anything that really is beautiful and uplifting to the human spirit,” Quinlan said. “My photographs show patterns of the universe, fragments of beauty like the pieces of a hand-sewn quilt.”

Orchard work had physical demands, and Quinlan has stayed very fit. He rides a bicycle, hikes and does Yang 24 form of Tai Chi. He also edits books and does ebook publishing.

“Anyone, with a little bit of help, can put their writings on and bring them to the attention of a worldwide audience,” Quinlan said. “I’ve been a writer all my life, and a teacher of English.”

He says living in Tryon next to a mountain lake, surrounded by forest, helps him focus.

“There’s a sense of peace and solitude here. It helps me to meditate and it helps me to do my work in website design and ebook publishing,” Quinlan said. “I live with a beloved friend, and my little black dog fills my heart with joy just by wagging her tail.”