In the community, making a difference

Bobbing for apples

“It is interesting how the history of the apple tree is connected with the history of man.”

Henry David Thoreau, “Wild Apples.”

Ripened fruit, its beauty and flavor is nutritious yet powerful as a symbol to mankind in myth, folklore, art and literature, none more so than the apple and the tree on which it grows. The origin of the apple tree has been traced by its DNA to the Tian Shan mountain range in the Asian country of Kazakhstan.

The apple tree has extreme heterozygosity or “slippery genome” and one grown from seed will not be the same as the parent. The wild apple produces fruit that is sour to the taste and have been called “spitters.” What we know as eating apples are grown from grafted trees and there are nearly 7,500 varieties.

In 1653 horticulturist Ralph Austen spoke of the spirituality of fruit trees: “Fruit trees do truly preach the attributes and perfections of God to us.” He considered cultivated trees, orderly planted in orchards to be symbols of those to be chosen for God’s grace. Henry David Thoreau considered the apple tree grown from seed freed from the concern of who was and wasn’t among those chosen for God’s grace. To him the wild apple, “emulates man’s independence and enterprise.”

John Chapman or “Johnny Appleseed” is remembered for propagating apple trees throughout the Ohio River valley, all grown from seed and sold to settlers. He was also a missionary for the theology of Emanuel Swedenborg, who taught, “No one character is completely like another’s, this variety is like a mirror in which we can see the infinity of God the creator.” Homesteaders were required to plant fifty fruit trees to legitimize their claim to acreage and planted trees grown from seed.

James Cook, more familiarly J.B., has grown up in the shadow of his father’s vegetable and flower garden. Dr. Tom Cook is one of the original vendors at the Alpena Farmers Market. The Cook family would find wild trees along right-a-ways and collected the apples to make cider. J.B. became fascinated: “Apples are my thing.” He saved money to buy land and now has 300 trees of 50 different varieties of apples that he sells at the market and makes into cider. His vision and tireless effort has kept the Alpena Farmers Market on track and moving forward.

The complexity of the apple as a symbol is evident in the comments on why Apple, Inc. is named for it. Steve Jobs, co-founder, finds the apple “fun, spirited and unintimidating,” and Jean Louis Gassee, former Apple, Inc. business executive, said “you couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge and anarchy.”

Life is like “bobbing for apples” – a tub of genetics in which opportunity floats. Make the most of it.

“You can’t sow an apple seed and expect to get an avocado tree. The consequences of your life are sown in what you do and how you behave.”

Tom Shadyac, American author, screenwriter