The American Hero

Pollan, M. 2002. The Botany of Desire. New York: The Random House Trade Paperbacks. p.3-58.

I used to go to Summer Camp as a kid.  It was a religious type camp, but nothing too overbearing.  I was not brought up in a religious family so my only real desire for attending was simply because all my elementary school friends went as well.  However, other than a morning chapel in the fresh dewy forest of the okanagan or the quick grace before meals, it would be hard to suspect it was a religious camp at all.  Nonetheless, these aspects were of course novel to me and I found enjoyment in them.  Grace was often a quick rhythmic melody and as with any good song, the grace told a story.  However in the hungry moments of grace, the story was sung with keen eyes at the promise of food, but largely unheard.  As the keen eyes aged, the youthful summer camp days lived only in memory and the lyrics of grace were largely forgotten.  Interwoven in my memories, but lost.  Today, I was reading in one of the high ceiling university buildings, next to a vast window overlooking my hometown.  I was a mere 80 km distance from my old summer camp, with a distance of 10 years in time since those days.  On page 4, it read: Johnny Appleseed.  Then there I sat, with an unexpected tune on my mind:

  “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord
For giving me, the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple-seed
Oh, the lord’s been good to me.

For every seed I sow,
will grow and grow and grow.
And someday, they’ll be apples there
For everyone in the world to share.
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.

*Clap* Johnny Appleseed *clap* Amen”

If there is one thing Michael Pollan succeeds at, it is the art of story telling.  Apples are one of the most prevalent fruits through human history and he accounts their story of North American settlement by reciting their colourful story-tale history whilst telling-it-slant to his perspective.  He writes a type of adventure/botany/history book, as he conquests to the apple’s North American beginnings on the rural frontier lands of Ohio.  Here is introduces the first character in his story and in apple history: Johnny Appleseed.  This stays the focus in his entire apple tale as he furthermore integrates human nature and desire, whilst continually shifting between actual history and current experience.

Micheal Pollan writes delightful sentences to appeal to all senses.  As he was describing the apple and its use in alcohol, I found myself craving the sweet and fresh taste apple cider.  His descriptions successfully set the scene and in another instance, I could clearly imagine myself walking among the apple orchard myself, with the fresh apple scent lingering in the fresh air.  Pollan emphasizes human desire.  In his writing about apples, he attributes their success in human history to the human desire for sweetness whilst his eloquent writing equivalently appeals to the human desire of story itself.

Having read Pollan’s writing before I was expecting bold metaphoric claims and big ideas.  He alludes to the distance we see in our modern world.  He writes of trying “to imagine”(p.11) what the apple forests must be like, including the look and the smell.  This reveals the distance in the world, as an apple forest is something to imagine and not a concrete thought.  I quickly realized that I had never thought about apple forests.  This was foreign.  When I think apples, I think apple orchards.  Of course, this is the domestication of the wild apples.  Another idea Pollan alludes to is how this domestication could reach a point of no return, similar to the potato famine in Ireland.  When domestication concentrates to an irreversible degree, this could result in a complete loss of diversity and ultimately a species is susceptible to extinction.  In a concluding compel, Pollan states  “in wildness is the preservation of the world”(p.57).




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