"We're very late this year . . . maybe 15 days later than last year," said William Erkes, walking along that ridge line one afternoon this week.
The view from that hilltop, under an apple-ripening sun, rivaled that of a man piloting a glider high above the river.
A retired Pan Am pilot, Erkes is co-owner of that Will-O-Mar Orchard in Upper Black Eddy, a quiet hamlet more than 50 miles northeast of Center City.
"The drought has really affected us," Margaret Erkes, his wife and co- owner of the orchard, had said earlier.
The picking has been late. The ripening has been late.
It could have been worse.
The summer drought is likely to slice Pennsylvania's normal apple output by more than 100 million pounds this year.
It is expected to be the second year in a row that the state has suffered such a loss.
From 1980 through 1986, Pennsylvania produced an annual average of 600 million pounds of apples, Greg Truckor, a statistician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in a telephone interview from his Harrisburg office.
But last year, the state produced only 460 million pounds of apples, Truckor said, and this year it is expected to produce only 490 million.
Pennsylvania is the nation's fifth-largest apple producer, Truckor said, after Washington, Michigan, New York and California.
"South-central Pennsylvania is where the majority of the apples grow," he said, and where the hurt might be felt most.
But a man who buys apples - more than six million pounds of apples a year - says that the droughts of the last two summers have hurt all apple growers, including those closest to Philadelphia, in Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties.
"I am quite sure that the drought would have hurt them as well," said J. Ward Cooper, director of procurement for Knouse Foods Cooperative, Inc., near Gettysburg, manufacturer of apple products under the Musselman and Lucky Leaf brands.
"Even with adequate moisture - and some growers do irrigate - the hot weather retards the growth of apples," Cooper said. "When you have excess heat - basically above 85 - apples just don't grow."
The drought's most noticeable effect on the apples will be their smaller
size, he said.
Up on the Will-O-Mar hilltop, the apple clusters still on the trees this week looked large and healthy and, well, good enough to eat off the vine.
Erkes twisted a green and yellow Golden Delicious off a low tree and, like a man unscrewing a bottle top, tore it in half, then into quarters.
The core was green, and that looked good to Erkes.
"That's the water core," he said. "And the sugar is showing up in the middle."
He and his wife and a helper would finish picking Golden Delicious this week.
Along the ridge he walked, stopped at a tree thick with clusters of dark, red Romes, twisted one off, and took a bite.
"It's very hard," he said. "It'll be picked in a matter of a week to 10 days."
He dropped what he hadn't eaten on the ground, like a schoolchild about to enter class.
"The starch can still be tasted," he said, chewing. As the starch turns to sugar, he said, the apple ripens. It's a delicate balance. All sugar, and the apple is rotten.
In 1979, while militants held the U.S. Embassy in Tehran hostage, the apple grower was one of the Pan Am pilots who helped ferry the last large group of American workers out of Iran.
It was Erkes' last great adventure as a pilot. Now 61, he retired in 1983.
The Erkes bought the 83 acres of hillside for all of $20,000 back in 1964
from a man who had never set eyes on the land.
It took them five years to uproot the trees and underbrush before they planted their first 10 acres in apple trees. Now 30 acres are planted with apples, 20 acres with peaches and nectarines, and more planting is planned.
It's a pilot's hillside.
Up on top, on a stretch of 1,500 feet of grass lies a rough landing strip.
A small hangar is at one end, a single-engine Cessna Skyhawk inside.
He doesn't use the plane for business, doesn't use it to get from here to there. He goes up in it, he said, "just to look at the countryside."