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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Sunshine

This Sunday was not sunny, so I’m borrowing an image from yesterday, when the day dawned clear and the sun shone for three hours or so before disappearing again behind the clouds. Can you see the skin of ice in the harbor? The ducks are sitting on the ice (one standing), soaking in the light. When sun disappeared outdoors, I turned to find it on my bookshelves.

Not a little of the sunshine of our Northern winters is surely wrapped up in the apple. How could we winter over without it?

So begins Chapter VII, “The Apple,” of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs. The earliest copyright showing for this work is 1875. The style and allusions are clearly from an age long vanished.

A cellar well filled with apples is more valuable than a chamber filled with flax and wool. So much sound, ruddy life to draw upon, to strike one’s roots down into, as it were.

Burroughs moves back and forth between poetic sensibility and down-to-earth facts, mentioning casually that the apple “has been found by analysis to contain more phosphorus than any other vegetable,” then moving directly on to observe, “This makes it the proper food of the scholar and the sedentary man….” Quoting from an undocumented historical source, he passes on the claim that workers in Cornwall in 1801, “a year of much scarcity,” were better able to subsist on a meatless diet of apples than one solely of potatoes. Two pages later he waxes enthusiastic and personal:

How pleasing to the touch! I love to stroke its polished rondure with my hand, to carry it in my pocket on my tramp over the winter hills, or through the early spring woods. You are company, you red-cheeked spitz, or you salmon-fleshed greening! I toy with you; press your face to mine, toss you in the air, roll you on the ground, see you shine out where you lie amid the moss and dry leaves and sticks. You are so alive! You glow like a ruddy flower. You look so animated I almost expect to see you move! I postpone the eating of you, you are so beautiful!

Burroughs mentions a truth obvious to Up North dwellers—that a bowl of apples is as beautiful a centerpiece as a vase of flowers. In our house at present, however, we have a bowl so highly piled with apples that it would inhibit conversation if placed between us. Time to make a big pot of applesauce tonight! After a gloomy day of rain and melting snow, the aroma of simmering applesauce will be 19th-century perfume.

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