On Making Something from Nothing

A violin made from trash recovered from a landfill in Cateura, Paraguay.

A violin made from trash recovered from a landfill in Cateura, Paraguay.

The lectionary gospel text for Sunday, January 16, 2013 was the story from John 2 about Jesus turning water into wine.  My pastor, who also happens to be my wife, included this trailer from the upcoming film Landfill Harmonic in a sermon on the vast material disparities between the rich and the poor in this world transformed by global capitalism. That many people sustain life by gleaning the discards of others–living atop urban landfills on the outskirts of some of the world’s largest cities–is a powerful example of this disparity.  While researching and writing Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard I spent a great deal of time trying to understand the relationship between frugality and material prosperity as market capitalism penetrated deep into the North American interior.  Was John Chapman’s choice to embrace a life of radical frugality a personal protest against the new materialism of his age? When John Chapman’s neighbors retold stories of his radical frugality–his determination to dress himself and feed himself from the discards of others, was he the butt of their joke, or an object of admiration?  I intend to continue to examine the idea of frugality in future posts, but today I’ll just share this video clip about people for whom living on the discards of other is not a choice, but a necessity of their circumstances.  What they make of those circumstances is nothing short of heroic.


Film recommendation: Adam’s Apples

Adams_Aebler_(2005)What if Quentin Tarantino were Danish, and decided to make a film about the Book of Job?  He might make this film.  I absolutely loved this dark but thoughtful comedy, in which a Lutheran minister, a neo-Nazi, a kleptomaniac, alcoholic ex-tennis star, and an Arab gas station robber share living quarters in a rural church.  The film also features a beleaguered apple tree, and the Bee Gee’s classic, “How Deep is Your Love?”  Will make you laugh, and reflect.  Available on Nextflix streaming.

My interview with the New Books In Food Network

A few weeks ago, I connected with Eric Lemay of the New Books Network and recorded this interview about my new book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchardwhich is now out in ebook form (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader) as well as hardcover and paperback.

Below is Eric’s introduction to the interview, which is about one hour long.

Not many of us, not even the most ardent foodies, think of the crab apple as a fruit worth eating, Imagemuch less extolling, but Henry David Thoreau saw something like the American pioneer spirit in this hard, gnarled, sour hunk of fruit.  In his essay “Wild Apples,” he celebrates the apple because it “emulates man’s independence and enterprise.”  Like America’s first settlers, he goes on, “it has migrated to this New World, and is even, here and there, making its way amid the aboriginal trees.”  He claims that “[e]ven the sourest and crabbedest apple, growing in the most unfavorable position, suggests such thoughts as these, it is so noble a fruit.”

William Kerrigan quotes from this passage at the start of his fascinating book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard: A Cultural History (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012) and he shows us the man behind the myth, a man very different from the one we might expect, but a man who nonetheless seems like the real-world embodiment of Thoreau’s thoughts on the apple.  Born in 1774, John Chapman is the planter who would eventually become Johnny Appleseed.  Kerrigan not only tells us the story of his life and afterlife, but also the story of the American apple, which begins, surprisingly enough, in Kazakhstan and goes on to our moment of genetically modified fruits and heritage varietals.

At the center of this story, Kerrigan shows us the journey of an unusual American for his time and then the creation of an unusual—and perhaps timeless—American myth.

Old Southern Apples

Review of Old Southern Apples


The Arkansas Black. A real alligator horse of an apple.

The Arkansas Black is a real alligator horse of an apple.  Bite into one fresh off the tree, and it will bite right back.  To describe its flesh as “firm” doesn’t adequately describe the fight in this apple.  Its deep red blush makes it perhaps the most beautiful apple God ever created.  And its rebel persistence serves it well.  In early March, when those grocery store apples pulled from their winter sleep  in a nitrogen-infused, controlled atmosphere storage facility taste bland and mealy, an Arkansas Black plucked from the cellar is a delight to eat, its sharp acidity and rocky firmness having mellowed with age.

Many Americans associate the peach with the South, and the apple with the North.  But the South has a long and proud tradition of producing distinctive apple varieties.  No man has done more to preserve the southern apple tradition than Creighton Lee Calhoun, who has spent decades crossing southern hill country seeking out the last specimens of old local varieties.


Old Southern Apples, by Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr.

The result of those efforts is his encyclopedic work Old Southern Apples.  First published in 1996, the book quickly sold out, and used copies fetched upwards of $200 on the secondary market before  Calhoun published a revised and expanded edition  in 2011.    The book begins with a nice history of the apple in the South, and is followed by a section on Southern varieties that are still available, and finally a section of extinct varieties.  In the middle of this handsome book are 123 beautifully reproduced full color plates from the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection, housed in the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. Old Southern Apples was an indispensable reference guide for me while researching Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard.  Anyone interested in apples, not just southerners, will find it chock full of valuable information, as many of the apples listed were also grown in other regions of the country.  It is also a delightful book to browse, and each return visit to the book rewards the reader with fascinating new information about Rusty Coats, Pippins, Limbertwigs, and other forgotten delights from the golden age of the American apple.  Peruse it with a local apple in your hand.  Just be careful to keep the juice from dripping on the beautiful watercolor plates.

For more about Calhoun, you can check out this three part youtube interview with the author:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

John Chapman, Lydia Maria Child, and the Frugal Life

John Chapman, Lydia Maria Child, and the Frugal Life 

One of the many Johnny Appleseed stories preserved in central Ohio communities

A slop pail. Standard household equipment in the pre-disposal days.

was of the day a farm woman opened her front door to find John Chapman fishing scraps of stale bread out of a slop pail that she intended for her hogs.  The woman was startled enough by the scene, but startled still more by John Chapman’s reaction to her discovery: he scolded her for wasting food perfectly suitable for human consumption on swine.

John Chapman’s radical commitment to the frugal life was the subject of many stories told about him.  His primitive dress, constructed primarily of the castoffs of others, and his insistence on the meanest of diets suggest that he took Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6:25, quite literally: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”

Historians often refer to the years between the War of 1812 and the Civil War as the era of the “market revolution.”  During these years, advances in transportation technology—good roads, canals, steamboats, and eventually railroads—gave Americans greater access to material goods.  The change in lifestyle was nowhere more dramatic than in the trans-Appalachian west, where communities moved rapidly from isolated frontier outposts to middle-class communities deeply integrated into a national economy.  While most embraced this revolution, like all change it also fostered some ambivalent reactions.  In particular, some saw the new material prosperity as a threat to personal piety, and the new rules of economic exchange as a threat to traditional notions of community.

It is worth considering whether John Chapman’s continued commitment to a life of austerity when material comfort was within reach was his personal reaction to the changes the market revolution had brought.  If so, he was not alone. In eastern cities, small numbers of committed middle-class reformers embraced “retrenchment,” and replaced their fine furniture with simple wooden tables, and their fancy silverware with more primitive utensils.   Perhaps no greater symbol of ambivalence to the new

Lydia Maria Child

materialism was the popularity of Lydia Maria Child’s best-selling book, The American Frugal Housewife.   First published in 1829, Frugal Housewife was an early American best-seller, in its 33rd edition by 1855.  Sub-titled “for those who are not ashamed of economy,” Child’s advice manual offered American women countless practical tips for getting by with less.In fact a piece of advice that Child offers in the preface of that book is curiously similar to the advice John Chapman gave to the startled farm wife:  “Look frequently to the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs which should have been in the grease-pot,” Child admonished her readers, and “look to the grease-pot, and see that nothing is there which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.”

In her obsession for keeping and finding uses for every candle stub and even the smallest scraps of fabric and twine, Child was a kindred soul to Chapman.  For Child, as for Chapman, frugality was religion and had the power to improve the world. “True Economy,” Child declared, “is a careful treasurer in the service of benevolence; and where they are united respectability, prosperity, and peace will follow.” Similarly, John Chapman’s own frugality allowed him to be more charitable, giving away not just his own worn out shoes to a barefoot family, but also cash he earned selling apple-seedlings and had saved by sleeping rough rather than paying for board.

Both Child and Chapman were products of the market revolution era, and each in their own way offered some resistance to it; Child through her advice manual, and Chapman through his lifestyle.  It is no accident that the vast majority of Johnny Appleseed stories that come down to us are about his later years, when John Chapman, the primitive Christian, found himself living in a world transformed by markets. It was only then that his radically anti-materialistic lifestyle truly stood out.  John Chapman’s increasingly middle-class neighbors appear to have found his lifestyle eccentric but also charmingly quaint.  While they had little desire

Acquiring this popular bumper sticker is perhaps the twenty-first century equivalent of buying a book on household economy.

to follow his example, they nonetheless harbored a nostalgia for simpler times, and worried about what values had been lost with the passing of the frontier.  By retelling stories about Johnny Appleseed, they were, in a sense, trying to honor those pre-market values.  They also honored them in a curiously modern way: by heading to the nearest dry goods store to purchase a copy of Ms. Child’s best-selling book.  By doing so, they hoped to demonstrate that despite their new material comfort, they were “not ashamed of economy.”

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” in the Antioch Review


Fall 2012 Issue of the Antioch Review

The Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review, “Johnny Appleseed and Other Legacies,” features a range of excellent non-fiction and fiction essays and poetry, including my essay, “The Invention of Johnny Appleseed.”  The essay, which is excerpted from Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, examines how Americans of different generations found new meanings in the story of the wandering apple tree planter.

‘A’ is for Apple, and also for Alar

A Brief History of Chemical Pesticide and Fertilizer use in American Orchards.

For most of the nineteenth century, almost every midwestern farm contained an apple orchard.  Growing apples, peaches, and other tree fruit was just one part of the diversified, self-provisioning family farm.  As the apple tree was not native to the American midwest, in the early years after introduction they thrived with little care, as few of the apple’s natural enemies were present in this new environment.  But the proliferation of orchards also created environments for pests to thrive.  By the mid-nineteenth century, agricultural journals were filled with advice about organic methods for managing these pests.  The first chemicals applied to apple orchards to fight pests arrived from France about 1880.  French horticulturists had found some success controlling the coddling moth by spraying their trees with ferrous sulfate, also known as Paris Green.  Soon, some American orchardists were regularly applying Paris Green, and another French import, hydrated copper sulfate, commonly called Bordeaux Mixture, to treat apple scab.

The chemical approach to cultivating apples found an ally in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, established by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.  The 1887 Hatch Act created agricultural experiment stations in every state, and controlling pests and diseases which were damaging crops was at the top of their agenda.  As the USDA developed new chemical solutions to old problems, and promoted them among orchardists, the nature of the American Orchard began to change.  Families who had long used the products of their orchards for home consumption, and marketed surpluses locally for modest profits, saw their profit margins disappear in the face of increased chemical input costs.  By the end of the 19th century, the percentage of family farms with orchards began a slow, steady decline, and production of apples became increasingly dominated by specialized “growers,” who made the increased costs of using chemicals work for them by specializing in fruit production and getting larger.

In this 1959 advertisement in Newsweek, Shell Chemical promoted its ammonia-based fertilizers by suggesting Johnny Appleseed would approve of their use.

In the twentieth century, the gospel of chemical solution spread across the nation, and those farmers who did not jump on the chemical bandwagon were dismissed as backwards, lazy, and lacking in ambition.  By mid-century, the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers in American orchards was widespread, and the American chemical industry was busy developing new and costly chemical solutions to every grower’s problems.  As growers produced increasingly for national markets, they also began to reduce the apple diversity in their orchards, concentrating on producing just a few varieties, in the belief that the American apple consumer sought predictability and uniformity of appearance above all else.  By 1980, almost half of all apples found in American grocery stores were of the Red Delicious variety, with its cousin the Golden Delicious a close runner-up.

An increasing obsession with appearance encouraged growers to find new ways to make their apples a perfect uniform deep red, and the chemical industry responded to this by offering up chemical growth retardants like Alar, to prevent Red Delicious and McIntosh apples from dropping off the trees before they have achieve the desired full red blush.  Tests on Alar had revealed that at very high doses it was a known carcinogen, but the Environmental Protection Agency had not banned it, believing it presented a very low risk to consumers. But Alar attracted the attention of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which lobbied for its ban, claiming that the risk posed was far greater than the industry believed, especially for children, and also that it was a completely unnecessary chemical, used for purely cosmetic purposes.

The story exploded when the investigative news show, 60 Minutes, ran a story on Alar in February 1989, introduced with an illustration of a skull and crossbones super-imposed on an apple.  One unsourced urban legend which has been repeated ever since was the story of a mother who called 911 to have the police stop her child’s school bus so that she could remove the deadly apple from her child’s lunch box.  The market for apples temporarily crashed, and growers took heavy losses on their crops. The industry sued both the NRDC and 60 Minutes, but did not prevail in the courts.  The chemical company Uniroyal, the maker of Alar, withdrew the product from the American market.

For both Big Agriculture and the Organic Food movement, “the Alar scare,” as it came to be remembered, was a watershed moment.  But each took a different lesson from it.  Perceiving itself to be a victim of an orchestrated and unjustified campaign against one of its products, Big Agriculture began to lobby for food defamation laws in many states, making it easier for agricultural interests to sue the media and environmental activists for inciting scares that cost farmers money. Environmentalists, on the other had, were able to use the Alar story to highlight the casual and unnecessary use of known carcinogens in American agriculture, and were able to press Congress to enact more stringent laws on chemical use in agriculture.

In recent years, demand for organic produce has increased dramatically in the United States, and small-scale producers who are totally organic or minimizing their uses of chemicals are making a comeback.  In 2012 the Environmental Working Group put the non-organic apple at the top of its “Dirty Dozen” list of produce that contains the most chemical traces, making the organic apple among the best choices for health-minded consumers. For more of the story of the apple in America, read Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard by William Kerrigan.

Who would Johnny Appleseed Vote For?

Who would Johnny Appleseed vote for?

There is nothing more American than a Presidential political campaign.  Every four years Americans who love their country pontificate, cajole, and argue with their neighbors about which candidate will not destroy the republic, and watch televised political debates with the same level of intensity they bring to annual Super Bowl parties.  And when Election Day passes, their momentary feeling of glee or despondency quickly fades into battle fatigue.  So if I am going to go out on a limb and speculate on Johnny Appleseed’s political perspective, I’d better do it today, as in two weeks absolutely no one will want to read this post.

If cable television and the internet exist in heaven, perhaps Johnny Appleseed is watching right now and choosing sides.  Does he identify with Mitt Romney, who, like him, was a missionary for a Christian sect operating on the periphery of mainstream Christianity?  Or does he relate more to Barack Obama, who also spent much of his childhood with an absent father and in a financially unstable household?

When I teach the politics of early America to my U.S. History classes, I have to caution my students to not conflate the political parties of the past with our current ones.  The issues that divided the Republican and Democratic parties of the 1850s, for example, are quite different from the concerns of voters in 2012, and neither of the two parties today much resemble their 1850s counterparts.  Did John Chapman even vote? No voting lists with John Chapman’s name on them survive, but one early Knox County, Ohio historian claimed that he was one of the fifteen voters to take part in Owl Creek’s first local election.  But my question is posed playfully.  We do not know, for certain, whether John Chapman preferred the Federalist Party or the Democratic-Republican Party in 1810, or if he was inclined to support William Henry Harrison’s “Log Cabin and Hard Cider” campaign over Democrat Martin Van Buren’s in 1840.

We can’t say anything with certainty about John Chapman’s political perspective, but we do know much more about the politics of those who have celebrated and retold his story over the years.  John Chapman may not have revealed to us whether he was a Harrison or Van Buren man, but in the one hundred and sixty-seven years since his death, his life and legend have been celebrated by both progressives and conservatives.

In the first one hundred years after his death, the Johnny Appleseed legend appeared to have its greatest appeal to political and social progressives and radicals.  W.D.

The November 1871 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine which introduced the Johnny Appleseed story to a national audience.

Haley, the Unitarian minister-turned-journalist who first brought John Chapman’s story to a national audience in an 1871 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine essay was a leader in the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange movement.  The Grange movement was the farmer’s response to the economic crisis they faced as a result of industrialization and the rise of monopoly power.  Grange members formed cooperatives to bolster the price of their produce, lobbied for regulation of the railroads, and the establishment of Rural Free Delivery of the mail.  “Faith, Hope, Charity, and Fidelity” was their motto, and they encouraged their members to “buy less and produce more.”  Haley saw Johnny Appleseed as a patron saint of the farmer frontier.

While the politics of the Grange were moderately progressive, the politics of Johnny Appleseed’s next great champion were quite radical for their day.  Lydia Maria Child was a feminist, anti-imperialist, and advocate of the rights of Native Americans.  She was also a prolific writer, and her book American Frugal Housewife was a best seller in the mid 19th century.  For poetry, she is most remembered for her Thanksgiving poem “Over the River and Through the Woods,” but she took on the subject of “Appleseed-John” in 1880.  She found in Johnny Appleseed a kindred soul, one who prized frugality, charity, and concern for the well-being of the most marginalized people in society as much as she did.

In the twentieth century, the people’s poet Vachel Lindsay celebrated John Chapman’s life in a series of poems. Lindsay at times appeared to aspire to be a twentieth-century version of Johnny Appleseed. He set off on several “tramping expeditions” across the nation with little money in his pocket, eager to meet ordinary Americans, and swap poems for food and shelter. Traveling across the nation, he gave recitals of his poetry in a frantic, populist style he called “High Vaudeville,” and many of his poems were choreographed and performed as dance. Lindsay combined a deep patriotism with a concern for the poor and dispossessed. He voted the socialist ticket, embraced pacifism, and had utopian dreams for his nation.  His best poem about the tree planter, “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed,” is the subject of another entry in this blog.

Perhaps the most radical champion of Johnny Appleseed was American Communist Party member Howard Fast, who made Chapman the hero of his first young adult novel, The Tall Hunter, in 1943.  After WWII, Fast became a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and was imprisoned for three months for refusing to divulge the names of persons who had contributed money to a orphanage for the children of American anti-fascist veterans of the Spanish Civil War.  Blacklisted for years, many of Fast’s patriotic historical novels are now staples in American schools.

During the Cold War era, more conservative representations of John Chapman emerged.  When the Walt Disney Corporation made a cartoon of John Chapman’s life in the 1948 film Melody Time, they emphasized Chapman’s faith in God and the power of the individual to make a difference in the world.  In the Disney version, Chapman carried a Bible with him at all times, and no mention was made of the tracts of the New Church—a Christian sect deemed outside the mainstream of American Christianity—which he distributed freely as he traveled.

By the 1980s it became increasingly common to hear John Chapman described as an entrepreneur and successful businessman.  A writer for the American Fruit Grower rejected the idea that John Chapman ever gave away his products for free, but instead sold them at their market price.  “Johnny Appleseed was an entrepreneur, the kind of small businessman so much a part of the building of America,” the writer declared, “who conceived and executed a daring enterprise of growing and selling apple tree seedlings.”

With the end of the Cold War, Johnny Appleseed seems to have become a figure with champions on both the left and right.  Many Christians celebrate his deep faith and piety.  Children in Christian schools often recite the Johnny Appleseed Grace. Conservative champions continue to portray Chapman as a “successful businessman” who amassed a fair amount of wealth during his lifetime. (Chapman’s relative wealth or poverty at the time of his death will be the subject of a future blog post.)

But Johnny Appleseed has also been celebrated by the sustainable agriculture movement, by vegetarians and environmentalists, and others who are ambivalent about the march of global capitalism and the rise of big agriculture.

Finally, in his best-selling book Botany of Desire (2001) Michael Pollan presents John Chapman as a social subversive, bringing alcohol in the form of hard cider to otherwise “dry” frontier communities.  Pollan declared Johnny Appleseed to be “Dionysus’s American son,” and “a figure of the fluid margins, slipping back and forth between the realms of wildness and civilization, man and woman, man and god, man and beast.”

Americans of various political and social orientations have found in Johnny Appleseed’s story elements to celebrate and honor.  And I suspect future generations will take other lessons from his life.  Were John Chapman to descend from the sky tomorrow, would he be more comfortable in the crowd at an Occupy rally, or at Christian religious revival?  My hunch is that he’d be delighted to attend both.

Vachel Lindsay, Johnny Appleseed Poet

A Kindred Spirit

Of the many artists and poets who have celebrated the life of John Chapman, Vachel Lindsay is perhaps my favorite. Lindsay at times appeared to aspire to be a twentieth-century version of Johnny Appleseed. He set off on several “tramping expeditions” across the nation with little money in his pocket, eager to meet ordinary Americans, and swap poems for food and shelter. Lindsay combined a deep patriotism with a concern for the poor and dispossessed. He voted the socialist ticket, embraced pacifism, and had utopian dreams for his nation. 

Traveling across the nation, he gave recitals of his poetry in a frantic, populist style he called “High Vaudeville,” and many of his poems were choreographed and danced. Although there are some surviving recordings of Vachel Lindsay performing his poetry, I am not aware of any recordings of his performance of “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed.” Lindsay cared deeply about how his poems were read, and sometimes offered his readers puzzling instructions on how to read them.  In the introduction to his Collected Works, Lindsay instructed: “All my verses marked to read aloud should be whispered, however contradictory that may seem.  All poetry is, first and last, for the inner ear, and its final pleasures are for the soul, whispering in solitude.”  I confess to taking this advice literally.  But when I read “In Praise of Johnny Appleseed,” the whisper that leaves my lips is a glorious shouting in my head.  One last note:  Vachel Lindsay included italicized instructions on how to hear this poem along the margins of the text.  I have included these odd little instructions in brackets and italics, as close to their location in the original printing as I could.   

Vachel Lindsay on a tramping expedition. He often swapped poems for food and a place to sleep..

In Praise of Johnny Appleseed

I.              Over the Appalachian Barricade

[To be read like old leaves on the elm tree of Time, Sifting soft winds with sentence and rhyme.]

 In the days of President Washington,

The glory of the nations,

Dust and ashes,

Snow and sleet,

And hay and oats and wheat,

Blew west,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Found the glades of rotting leaves, the soft deer-pastures,

The farms of the far-off future

In the forest.

Colts jumped the fence,

Snorting, ramping, snapping, sniffing,

With gastronomic calculations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

The east walls of our citadel,

And turned to gold-horned unicorns,

Feasting in the dim, volunteer farms of the forest.

Painting of Vachel Lindsay by artist Ted Keylon.

Stripedest, kickingest kittens escaped,

Caterwauling “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Renounced their poor relations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to tiny tigers

In the humorous forest.

Chickens escaped

From farmyard congregations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to amber trumpets

On the ramparts of our Hoosiers’ nest and citadel,

Millennial heralds

Of the foggy mazy forest.

Pigs broke loose, scrambled west,

Scorned their loathsome stations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Turned to roaming, foaming wild boars

Of the forest.

The smallest, blindest puppies toddled west

Lindsay gesturing dramatically during a reading.

While their eyes were coming open,

And, with misty observations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

Barked, barked, barked

At the glow-worms and the marsh lights and the lightning-bugs,

And turned to ravening wolves

Of the forest.

Crazy parrots and canaries flew west,

Drunk on May-time revelations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to delirious, flower-dressed fairies

Of the lazy forest.

Haughtiest swans and peacocks swept west,

And, despite soft derivations,

Crossed the Appalachians,

And turned to blazing warrior souls

Of the forest,

Singing the ways

Of the Ancient of Days.

And the “Old Continentals

In their ragged regimentals,”

With bard’s imaginations,

Crossed the Appalachians.


A boy

Blew west,

And with prayers and incantations,

And with “Yankee Doodle Dandy,”

Vachel Lindsay

Crossed the Appalachians,

And was “young John Chapman,”


“Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,”

Chief of the fastnesses, dappled and vast,

In a pack on his back,

In a deer-hide sack,

The beautiful orchards of the past,

The ghosts of all the forests and the groves—

In that pack on his back,

In that talisman sack,

To-morrow’s peaches, pears, and cherries,

To-morrow’s grapes and red raspberries,

Seeds and tree-souls, precious things,

Feathered with microscopic wings,

All the outdoors the child heart knows,

And the apple, green, red, and white,

Sun of his day and his night—

The apple allied to the thorn,

Child of the rose.

Porches untrod of forest houses

All before him, all day long,

“Yankee Doodle” his marching song;

And the evening breeze

Joined his psalms of praise

As he sang the ways

Of the Ancient of Days.

Leaving behind august Virginia,

Proud Massachusetts, and proud Maine,

Planting the trees that would march and train

On, in his name to the great Pacific,

Like Birnam wood to Dunsinane,

Johnny Appleseed swept on,

Every shackle gone,

Loving every sloshy brake,

Loving every skunk and snake,

Loving every leathery weed,

Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,

Master and ruler of the unicorn-ramping forest,

The tiger-mewing forest,

The rooster-trumpeting, boar-foaming, wolf-ravening forest,

The spirit-haunted, fairy-enchanted forest,

Stupendous and endless,

Searching its perilous ways

In the name of the Ancient of Days.

II. The Indians Worship Him, but He Hurries On

Painted kings in the midst of the clearing

Heard him asking his friends the eagles

To guard each planted seed and seedling.

Then he was a god, to the red man’s dreaming;

Then the chiefs brought treasures grotesque and fair,—

Magical trinkets and pipes and guns,

Beads and furs from their medicine-lair,—

Stuck holy feathers in his hair.

Hailed him with austere delight.

The orchard god was their guest through the night.

While the late snow blew from bleak Lake Erie,

Scourging rock and river and reed,

All night long they made great medicine

For Jonathan Chapman,

Johnny Appleseed,

Johnny Appleseed;

And as though his heart were a wind-blown wheat-sheaf,

As though his heart were a new built nest,

As though their heaven house were his breast,

In swept the snowbirds singing glory.

And I hear his bird heart beat its story,

Hear yet how the ghost of the forest shivers,

Hear yet the cry of the gray, old orchards,Bound volume of "In Praise of Johnny Appleseed"

Dim and decaying by the rivers,

And the timid wings of the bird-ghosts beating,

And the ghosts of the tom-toms beating, beating.

 [While you read, hear the hoof-beats of deer in the snow. And see, by their track, bleeding footprints we know.]

 But he left their wigwams and their love.

By the hour of dawn he was proud and stark,

Kissed the Indian babes with a sigh,

Went forth to live on roots and bark,

Sleep in the trees, while the years howled by.

Calling the catamounts by name,

And buffalo bulls no hand could tame.

Slaying never a living creature,

Joining the birds in every game,

With the gorgeous turkey gobblers mocking,

With the lean-necked eagles boxing and shouting;

Sticking their feathers in his hair,—

Turkey feathers,

Eagle feathers,

Trading hearts with all beasts and weathers

He swept on, winged and wonder-crested,

Bare-armed, barefooted, and bare-breasted.

 [While you read, see conventions of deer go by. The bucks toss their horns, the fuzzy fawns fly.]

 The maples, shedding their spinning seeds,

Called to his appleseeds in the ground,

Vast chestnut-trees, with their butterfly nations,

Called to his seeds without a sound.

And the chipmunk turned a “summerset.”

And the foxes danced the Virginia reel;

Hawthorne and crab-thorn bent, rain-wet,

And dropped their flowers in his night-black hair;

And the soft fawns stopped for his perorations;

And his black eyes shone through the forest-gleam,

And he plunged young hands into new-turned earth,

And prayed dear orchard boughs into birth;

And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream,

And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream,

And he ran with the rabbit and slept with the stream.

And so for us he made great medicine,

And so for us he made great medicine,

And so for us he made great medicine,

In the days of President Washington.

  1. III.        Johnny Appleseed’s Old Age

[To be read like faint hoof-beats of fawns long gone From respectable pasture, and park and lawn, And heartbeats of fawns that are coming again When the forest, once more, is the master of men.]


Long, long after,

When settlers put up beam and rafter,

They asked of the birds: “Who gave this fruit?

Who watched this fence till the seeds took root?

Who gave these boughs?” They asked the sky,

And there was no reply.

But the robin might have said,

“To the farthest West he has followed the sun,

His life and his empire just begun.”

Self-scourged, like a monk, with a throne for wages,

Stripped, like the iron-souled Hindu sages,

Draped like a statue, in strings like a scarecrow,

His helmet-hat an old tin pan,

But worn in the love of the heart of man,

More sane than the helm of Tamerlane!

Hairy Ainu, wild man of Borneo, Robinson Crusoe—Johnny Appleseed!

And the robin might have said,

“Sowing, he goes to the far, new West,

With the apple, the sun of his burning breast—

The apple allied to the thorn,

Child of the rose.”

Washington buried in Virginia,

Jackson buried in Tennessee,

Young Lincoln, brooding in Illinois,

And Johnny Appleseed, priestly and free,

Knotted and gnarled, past seventy years,

Still planted on in the woods alone.

Ohio and young Indiana—

These were his wide altar-stone,

Where still he burnt out flesh and bone.

Twenty days ahead of the Indian, twenty years ahead of the white man,

At last the Indian overtook him, at last the Indian hurried past him;

At last the white man overtook him, at last the white man hurried past him;

At last his own trees overtook him, at last his own trees hurried past him.

Many cats were tame again,

Many ponies tame again,

Many pigs were tame again,

Many canaries tame again;

And the real frontier was his sunburnt breast.

From the fiery core of that apple, the earth,

Sprang apple-amaranths divine.

Love’s orchards climbed to the heavens of the West.

And snowed the earthly sod with flowers.

Farm hands from the terraces of the blest

Danced on the mists with their ladies fine;

And Johnny Appleseed laughed with his dreams,

And swam once more the ice-cold streams.

And the doves of the spirit swept through the hours,

With doom-calls, love-calls, death-calls, dream-calls;

And Johnny Appleseed, all that year,

Lifted his hands to the farm-filled sky,

To the apple-harvesters busy on high;

And so once more his youth began,

And so for us he made great medicine—

Johnny Appleseed, medicine-man.


The sun was turned –up broken barrel,

Out of which their juicy apples rolled,

Down the repeated terraces,

Thumping across the gold,

An angel in each apple that touched the forest mold,

A ballot-box in each apple,

A state capital in each apple,

Great high schools, great colleges,

All America in each apple,

Each red, rich, round, and bouncing moon

That touched the forest mold.

Like scrolls and rolled-up flags of silk,

He saw the fruits unfold,

And all our expectations in one wild-flower written dream.

Confusion, and death-sweetness, and a thicket of crab-thorns!

Heart of a hundred midnights, heart of the merciful morns.

Heaven’s boughs bent down with their alchemy,

Perfumed airs, and thoughts of wonder.

And the dew on the grass and his own cold tears

Were one in brooding mystery,

Though death’s loud thunder came upon him,

Though death’s loud thunder struck him down—

The boughs and the proud thoughts swept through the thunder,

Till he saw our wide nation, each State a flower,

Each petal a park for holy feet,

With wild fawns merry on every street,

With wild fawns merry on every street,

The vista of ten thousand years, flower-lighted and complete.

Hear the lazy weeds murmuring, bays and rivers whispering,

From Michigan to Texas, California to Maine;

Listen to the eagles screaming, calling,

“Johnny Appleseed, Johnny Appleseed,”

There by the doors of old Fort Wayne.

In the four-poster bed Johnny Appleseed built,

Autumn rains were the curtains, autumn leaves were the quilt.

He laid him down sweetly, and slept through the night,

Like a stone washed white,

There by the doors of old Fort Wayne