Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Oldest of the Apple Trees

It's been over 20 years since I wandered back onto a little bump of land above the floodplain of the Nonnewaug River in the spring of 1990 after reading the page reproduced above. It's been a 150 years more or less since William Cothren, the Woodbury Historian, first wandered onto the same plot of land. Cothren wandered back a few years later only to find the stone mounds missing, claimed to have been plowed up, but in reality probably dismantled and plundered for what at that time were called "relics," the bones of human beings and the grave goods that they were buried with.
There used to be an old 1860's map hanging in the stairway of a house on Falls Road that showed an apple orchard just about where Cothren intimated the wood cut illustration above "was struck."
I've wandered about the general area since the early 70's and had been in that "orchard" before. I remembered it as being occasionally mown around the numerous apple trees, a few large boulders, a big patch of low cedar, and a red juniper tree.
"Could I be seeing some of those ancient trees?"  I remember wondering when I returned in 1990. Could they have been pruned back over the years, keeping them small? Some looked sprouted from old roots and way too young, but there were several, most of them now long gone, that seemed possibly maybe to be the Oldest of the Apple Trees.

Above is one I'd recently worried about and hadn't looked at since a recent surprise October Snow Storm that took out a great number of trees in the area. I consider it a minor miracle that it survived the storm. Down in the right hand corner you will note a boulder, perhaps a "manitou stone" that is now laying flat instead of possibly up right, and perhaps you can tell by the noon time shadows that it is to the west of the ancient apple, perhaps indicating where the stone mound once was between the stone and the tree way back before the mid 1800's...
The main trunks of the tree are twisted around each other, something associated with Native Americans, rather than a European method of shaping apple trees in an orchard...

If you walk westward from the tree, you come to a low serpentine row of stones that borders the floodplain. Just after a 100 year flood in the 1980's, there was another row visible to the west of this row, cleared out by the waters that never reached as high as this row in the photo below, that further westward now once again covered in vegatation...
There's a stone row covering that serpentine row a little south of where I stood to take that photo above. It looks "thrown" rather than carefully constructed and I suspect it to be made (sometime between the two visits Cothren recorded that he made here) from the stones that once made up the mounds...

There's a second large old apple very close to this part of the "stone wall."

Get closer to it and you can see that it too has been twisted way back in it's life...

Why apple trees? They aren't native, probably traded for, and just maybe could be "spirit food" for the departed. There's record of another such orchard and gravesites down at the Pootatuck Village on the Great River on Mitchell's farm - and there's photos I've seen of the Burial Grounds at Schaghticoke farther north along the Great River we now call by it's Machican name, the Housatonic, "the river beyond the mountains." Those twisty trees also have similar stone markers, I think to the west of them but I'm not really sure.

From an old sketch book of mine (199?)


  1. Anonymous2:31 PM

    There was an English explorer whose comments on the contents of the New England Tribes’ gardens had caught my eye. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember who exactly it was; perhaps John Smith. Among the contents listed were cucumbers, peas and apple orchards. None of these plants are indigenous to this side of the Atlantic. I can see cucumbers easily being confused with certain types of squash. Indigenous crabapples and medlars may have been cultivated in groves and could be mistaken for apples. Peas? I don’t see how an Englishman would mistake anything else for garden peas. Beans would come close, but not close enough.
    A scenario that comes to my mind, is that perhaps these plants were part of the supplies of earlier sailors and fishermen and given to the Indians, or deposited on these shores. (As in throwing out the spent apple core)

    1. Anonymous2:10 PM

      The hog peanut and the ground nut both have delicate flowering vines and are considered peas due to the seed pods.
      The latter being a root potato.
      They grew closer to rivers, stream, lakes, and were indigenous to Northeast. Be mindful of any misinterpretation of the word 'orchard'. As the geography of the northeast went through glacial changes, hills up through the Adirondacks were cultivated to sustain shelter/safety and proximal trees would provide infinite utilitarian value. Along the same path were the fertile flood plains of these same river tribes. The terms under which the grove was being described were anglicized observations. (Agriculture was in fact a Woodland phenomenon prior to colonization and ancient trade routes allowed crops like maize to be cultivated.) It was a monument, no less a garden of Eden.

  2. Those European adventurers used names of things that were known to them quite often in their descriptions. It's why we read about white walnuts that are really american chestnuts - and still call junipers "cedars."
    Thanks for the comments; I'm going to look up medlars now...