Title: Not Far From the Tree: A Brief History of the Apples and the Orchards of Palermo Maine 1804–2004
Author: John P. Bunker, Jr.
Strong points: A very enjoyable and poetic read.
Lots of horticultural learning cleverly inserted into the stories and journal entries.
A perfect example of what fruit exploring and heritage variety preservation is all about!
Weaknesses: Such a minor one, the layout is a bit reminiscent of early word processing rather than current day design and type setting software. At first glance it’s noticeable, but the great content soon makes this minuscule issue transparent.
Green thumbs rating:
The single digit temperatures of recent weeks inspire me to do little else than curl up with a good book and a mug of hot cider. Not Far From the Tree is the perfect book for this! Part history, part horticultural guide, and a large part just plain enjoyable read, this book was hard to put down. John is a master sleuth of both historical and horticultural details, a skilled story teller, and an adventuresome fruit explorer. His skill with the pen is not with words alone. His quaint; and so fitting; pen and ink line-drawings enhance many pages as well. You can not help but be drawn into his world as you follow him on the many treasure hunts for old apple varieties growing in his neighborhood.
If you are a local history buff, you’ll enjoy the talks he has with the “old-timers” still living in his area. It brought back memories for me. As a teenager (although, horse-obsessed at the time) I spend my best summers not far from where John writes about; “down the road a piece,” as old Mainers would say; in Waterville. I can still hear the slow, measured, old Yankee drawl as I envision John talking apples and farming with one of the locals.
If you are an adventurer, John will take you exploring to exotic locales — from Athens to Belgrade, China to Paris, and even for an adventure on the “Great Pond.” Yet you’ll hardly venture far from the tree. You’ll discover Sweets, Bananas, Opal(escents, that is) and even have an encounter with the Russians. All in great fun!
Interwoven among the history is also horticulture aplenty; apple varieties of course and more. You’ll learn about grafting, rootstocks, botany, pruning, tree hardiness, and terroir. Although John doesn’t refer to it in nearly this lofty a term, you come to know the importance of “place” in bringing out the best in each fruit variety. You even get a hint of meteorology too, as John recounts a story of the winter of 1933. Is it possible the East Coast and Midwest were visited by a polar vortex far worse than the one we’ve experienced this winter?
You will certainly want to pick up this easy-to-read and entertaining book. It has so much information, artfully woven into it, that you will likely want to ready it several times over. In any case, the narrative closes with a great song; (composed by John, I assume.) You’ll have to read to experience its delight. Far be it for me to give away the punch line.
ISBN: 978–1-883957–4 (trade paperback)
# of pages: 190 pgs.
Illustrations: Yes, black & white line art
Publisher: John Bunker, 167 Turner Mill Pond Rd., Palermo, ME 04354 Contact: email@example.com
Publication Date: 2007
Price: $28 (of which $5 is donated to the Palermo Historical Society)
As a great complement to Not Far From the Tree and for all you need to know about growing apples and other fruit trees, buy The Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden.