Remembering Wild Apples

Thoreau can be philosophically as sophisticated and serious as they come, and also (of course) just delightfully observant.  Why do the two so often get divorced?  A friend wrote from her urban garden in the Canadian north, near the Rockies, which set me thinking about Thoreau’s “Wild Apples,” an essay that ends with an apocalyptic vision of ‘the end of nature’ brought on by God’s wrath, and is delightfully observant through the middle.  He complains that the new style of having apple trees in orchards not only gives a distasteful marching regimentation to the trees, but that the new easy supply of a single kind or two means that the profusion of wild ones will disappear, and kids will grow up thinking apples are grown in a barrel (or on Styrofoam trays), with a choice only of two.  He could name dozens of varieties just around Concord, and listed even more when he traveled to Minn. later on for his health.  He gets quite ecstatic describing the taste of an ‘ice apple’ — some apples don’t fall but freeze on the branches in winter; then with ‘the usual January thaw’ they unfreeze, and the juice within ferments.  So you bite into a little hard cider fresh from the tree.  He liked the little ‘high’ it delivered, and each apple (from various trees) was spiked slightly differently. He laughed at the Puritan disapproval of all drink, and enjoyed his “natural highs.”  It was not a homogenized, predictable ‘hard cider’ at all. Biting in was a bit like wine tasting in wine country.  Except the landscape wasn’t gentrified.  And the pleasure was free.

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