Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Botany of Desire (copy)

For the past few late nights, I have awakened to the sound of my own gnashing of teeth. I throw the covers off, grab my book, and head for the kitchen. Within the crisper are Fuji apples with my name written all over one of the light golden-pink orbs. A few minutes of slicing into halves and carving out the core, and I am seconds away from relief.

Michael Pollan, author of The Botany of Desire, is less interested in the health benefits from apples, but rather the sweetness in which they have evolved. He could care less that I choose the apple to ease my ache, and more that I choose it for its firmness. In his writing he points out “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” was a marketing ploy growers dreamt up to keep the temperance movement at bay.

Ah, but I am getting ahead of the story. Pollan starts with the adventures of John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and his quest to bring apples to America. Even during pioneer times, John was seen as an oddity. He did not like the company of others and preferred to be in the wilds, bedding down under the stars. Instead of a scow to transport his seeds, he lashed two dug-out logs together and filled one with heaping amounts of apple seeds then sat on the other side to balance. The contraption, resembling a catamaran, was seen often afloat with its napping captain.

Mr. Chapman was essentially an early-American land speculator. He bought land on the many tributaries of the Ohio River, and commenced to establishing apple orchards. The land had to meet his specifications first. It had to be flat, clear of brush, approximately two acres, and near the water’s edge. By the time settlers moved into the area his orchards were 2 years old, and he sold the seedlings for six and a half cents each.

Here is the story most children’s books omit. Apples were not to be eaten, they were for drinking! Sugar did not exist in frontier America. It was hard cider the pioneers made; although, hard is a term coined in the twentieth-century. Before refrigeration, all cider was hard because pioneers did not have a way to keep sweet cider sweet.

This is just one of the many stories in The Botany of Desire by Pollan. His main point being our relationship with plants determines their survival. Through four different examples (apple, tulip, marijuana, and potato) he proves mankind is swayed by sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. At three a.m., I am swayed by relief and a good book.

Note: Third book for Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge!