Hi All! Apologies for the long silence. Once again I am busy perpetually and don’t spend much time on the computer where I’m not working on Vol. 3 (I’m 25% of the way through the descriptions necessary for the next edition of Pomological Series!). In the meantime I’m teaming on here to share some thoughts that I put together in December
In the United States, there is an Interstate highway system which began to be developed in the 1950s. The postwar world needed to prioritize the development of an automobile infrastructure capable of supporting the expansion of urbanisation and mechanisation. This is not a sociological essay on the politics of urban space and the ills of a federal policy of property reclamation known as ’eminent domain.’ However it is worth noting that the major disruption of installing interstate highways through low-lying (flat) terrain between large urban areas was that a tremendous amount of residential and agricultural and was repurposed toward development projects. The social effects of this are widely considered and documented, but what about the ecological effects? Where do these two meet?
The highways were routed through areas rich in natural beauty and richness. The terrain is often remote, and a short distance away from the pavement there is no trace of human presence. The roadway itself is an alienating presence. The many farmers, landowners, and animals dispossessed of the land they call home to make way for the development would likely agree.
The interstates are essentially an engineered ‘edge’ ecosystem. The vegetated grassy margins and medians, known by some as ‘the long mile,’ is mown mechanically once or twice per year. The grass is tender and green. Animals flooding the roadway is a problem, roadkill is rampant. Trees need to be kept far enough off the roadway so that fallen tree limbs do not obstruct traffic. There is a fertile, sunny edge ecosystem along both sides of essentially every highway. In large parts of the eastern US, where deciduous hardwood forest dominates naturally, wild apples, not discriminating on the basis of where seeds germinate, often crop up along these dangerous roadways. Very little human intervention or interaction occurs on the greenways of the highway system. It is not public property, it is owned by the state, and treated as private property. It is considered illegal to roam or make recreation on the highways, unless in an emergency situation. There is some interest in keeping wild apples off the long mile, since they attract animals near traffic due to the bountiful forage available via dropped fruit.
The state has no prerogative in harvesting the natural resources of this unique edge ecosystem. All its resources—feral tree fruit, mushrooms, wood, and game are inadvertently conserved. Wild apples are what I believe to be the most thought-provoking element of this quasi-artificial ecosystem.
I scrumped the ‘THE BERKSHIRES’ tree.
On I-90 traveling westbound through the state of Massachusetts, the increasing elevation of the hilltowns west of the Connecticut River offers an abundance of wild apple trees to see on the long mile. As an apple-obsessed nutcase, I am always tempted to pull over. I know it is illegal on the Interstate. It’s such a dangerous place to pull over: you’re traveling so fast— distracted drivers and sleep-deprived truckers often swerve into the shoulder—cops are basically everywhere in the contemporary version of the fascist, surveillance-wracked police state known as America, reminding one the looming threat of fines or arrest, or at least being hassled by highway patrol. I think to myself: ‘But the roads are kinda calm right now, it’s nice outside, and there are just so many apples on that tree, I could just….check it out really quickly.’
There is a huge sign on that reads ‘THE BERKSHIRES’ demarcating the county line through Becket MA. There is an enormous apple tree next to it, quite biennial, holding prolific crops of small yellow apples. It looks like it has been there a long time. It doesn’t totally seem planted despite the conspicuous location. What an iconic tree. I have driven by it literally hundreds of times. I wonder how many people have stopped to taste the fruit. It is a strange thing. I don’t believe there to be a single tree in the entire state of Massachusetts that sees more human traffic than this one situated on one of the most well trafficked roads in the country. It has not been written about. It has no plaque or sign noting its importance as a tree of note (as many large, public-facing, veteran trees in the USA do). It is not locally known with a nickname. This is a paradox to me. The tree occupies a significantly ambiguous gray area between being ‘off-limits’ and ‘getchaselfsome.’
There is no-one to clear up this misunderstanding, so perhaps its status is so poorly understood that no one will think twice.
I wonder if it was here before the Massachusetts Turnpike was built. Visual examination of the tree tells me it could predate the interstate, but all of a sudden it is hard to tell. I scrumped it around 615AM on a Sunday morning as I headed west. I did not ask permission, and I stayed there for about a half hour as I climbed the tree, shook it by hand, and then crouched on the ground below, harvesting the apples by hand into wooden boxes. It is a dimly flavored acid apple with light astringency and undertones of pomegranate. Very nice apple. No cops bothered me. No one else did either; few people even looked towards me as I leant over on all fours to get every last one. It was as if nobody gave a fuck. I took apples from a tree on state property that’s supposed to be patrolled by police. In one way, this ambiguity is concerning, but as far as my foraging is concerned, nothing could have been more helpful.
This simple act has emboldened me to harvest more fruit off the long mile. Now I don’t hesitate to stop when I see one on the margin. There are ways to be safe and get to the fruit. It’s just there. Nobody seems to want to forage on the highway, and I understand why. The color of my skin plays a privilege, as does the bushy black beard I wear and the fact that I am often driving a pickup truck. The notion that I am unafraid placing myself in this situation is evidence of patriarchy and white supremacy. There is environmental consequence to this. Despite the potential for pollution present in roadways, it still happens to be the most abundant and prolific ‘edge’ ecosystem that we have in the eastern part of the country. Staggering scale with tens of thousands of miles of forest edge bordering the pavement of interstate highways. It seems rather wasteful, or at least disappointing, that these pieces of land are so culturally and politically off limits.
The ‘THE BERKSHIRES’ sign doesn’t have a special pulloff, or a welcome center. There is a small stone wall in a rectangle around the sign, but it doesn’t have any lights or other plants near it. This apple tree isn’t my tree and these aren’t even my apples. As far as I can tell, I think they belong to nobody. Their eligibility to be claimed is null due to how much everyone cares about the things around it, and not about the tree itself. For someone whose eyes are trained to locate wild apple trees, this is kind of an incredible instance of ignoring the elephant in the room. I am just trying to figure out how wild apples, the love of my life, fit into our maladapted paradigm of ‘ownership.’ They can’t be contained, they’re happy growing where nobody is used to looking, and nobody is used to caring. What a lovely thing.
GNARLY NURSERY SALE
I still have several dozen 2-year old trees left. These are whips I’ve grown out from varieties in the Gnarly Pippins Catalog, all on B118. You can read about all these on the Varieties page. Varieties left in stock include:
- Thornton Brass
- Thornton Pearls
- Muscadet d’Haydenville
- Queen Crab
- Beauty of the Quabbin
- Acorn Pippin
- Jean’s Russet
- Cave Hill Pearmain
Act fact: these are not going to last long. There are many people in line to pick their trees up soon and then I’ll be sold out until the Fall. I will be growing out more semi-dwarf trees (G890 and 969) from this Spring’s grafting, so for those interested in trees in 2024 or ’25, take note!
SCIONWOOD GOING ON SALE
I’m also running a discount on scionwood for the remainder of the grafting season. Use the discount code TOPWORK25 to take 25% off your scionwood order if you place it between now and the end of May. I want to move scionwood and get it out of the cooler and into the world, so if you’ve been slow to get your grafting projects done, now is the time to source your wood!
That’s all for now folks. Stay tuned for more freewheeling essays and thoughts on all this stuff.
Get in touch via the contact form if you need trees, or place an order today for your last minute scionwood needs.