Wild apples

Jay Pfeil - Wild Apples

Be sure to check out the 18th edition of the Festival of the Trees at Riverside Rambles.

The above print is one the few original artworks I own: “Wild Apples,” by Jay Pfeil. Please excuse the reflection on the glass — since Jay makes a living from her art, I thought I’d better not make too easily reproducible an image.

In addition to its merits as a work of art, it’s valuable to me as part of the Plummer’s Hollow historical record: it depicts an actual tree that stands about fifty feet from my kitchen window, as it appeared during the the artist’s nine month tenancy in this very house, back in 1979-1980. In fact, the print came off a big press that stood, as I recall, right next to the wall upon which it currently hangs in the guest house living room.

Wild Apples
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Here’s the same tree as it appeared a week ago, with just a little Photoshoppery to make it a look slightly etchified (excuse the technical art-talk here, folks). I didn’t notice until I compared the photo with the print that Jay must’ve reversed her own sketch at some point in the printing process, because in reality the two trunks overlap in the opposite direction from the way she depicted them. Aside from that discrepancy, one can clearly see how much the tree has grown over the past 28 years, and how much it remains the same. A couple bad ice storms have taken their toll, but every year the tree is still dotted with apples that only the deer could love — and it gets well fertilized as a result.

We have several wild apple trees around the fringes of the field, and I’m sure they represent either old rootstock shorn of its grafts that survived the bulldozing of the Plummer Farm orchard back in the 1950s, or else the direct offspring of orchard trees — apple varieties don’t come true from seed. Here’s a photo taken in what is now our shed lawn, showing a bit of the orchard in the background as it appeared in 1919.

Charles Schroyer in the garden

The child in the photo was a Plummer relative up visiting his grandparents, Jacob and Mollie Plummer, who had a house in town at the time, but probably spent at least part of the summer here in the guest house. I would love to know just how many people have lived in this modest little dwelling over the 150 years of its existence. Just the other week, someone contacted us through the Plummer’s Hollow site to say that an ancestor of his had been born here back in the 1880s, and my Dad — who has done extensive research on the history of the place — had never heard the name. In fact, that was the first good evidence we’ve had that the place was even rented out in the 19th century, when Plummers still lived in the main house year-round.

Jay Pfeil and her soon-to-be husband Richard Sackett only lived here a short time, but they made a big impression on me. I was 12 and 13 at the time, and my brothers and I used to drop in after supper at least once a week for jam sessions: Richard was an accomplished guitarist, and my brother Steve played the five-string banjo. Richard got a job with a local landscaping company, and when time and circumstance permitted, he used to go busking in the streets of State College with some of his musician friends. Jay was exhibiting her works at local and regional arts festivals, with encouragement from her artist mother, who came to visit a couple of times — the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, I guess. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the three of them were role models of a sort, the first people I’d ever known who put art and music at the center of their lives. True, my mother is a writer, but my parents were never what one would call bohemian.

The winter of 1979-80 was a rough one, and Jay and Richard had to leave their Volkswagon bus at the bottom of the road for a couple of months, where eventually it got vandalized. The isolation per se didn’t seem to bother them too much, but they left, Jay said, because there wasn’t enough light here. It’s a north-facing hollow, and the guest house in particular is dark because of its proximity to the woods. For me, of course, the cave-like ambience is one of the main attractions of living here, but then I work with words rather than images. Jay and Richard moved to Black Mountain, North Carolina, where Jay continues to make intaglio prints of local trees, among other things. In a biographical statement on the Piedmont Craftsmen site, she says,

At present I am immersed in drawing new leaves in the spring, with a special love of the native Fraser (or Mountain) Magnolia. I am also continuing to work on a number of other series, such as ‘Paths Through the Woods,’ ‘Plant Portraits,’ and ‘Full Moon’ … Through my daily mountain hikes, I strive to etch or draw my work in their natural locations. Due to the time-consuming and complex nature of etching and engraving, larger works are often finalized in my studio. It is my hope that [by] conveying my enthusiasm and reverence for the wild world … others may enjoy, respect, and conserve the environmental diversity that surrounds us in a sustainable, cooperative balance.

Though Jay may have ended up putting down roots farther south in the Appalachians, the seeds she planted here continue to bear fruit, albeit in a slightly altered form.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

15 Comments


  1. What a lovely story about the wild apple tree and the artist who depicted it! I can imagine how meaningful that print is for you.

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  2. A nice post, Dave! How often do we get to see a drawing, painting, or print and also a later photo of the same subject!

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  3. This is really delightful. I’m beginning to think that reading local history can be more enjoyable than reading regional and national history, which I have done a lot more of.

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  4. Wow! All for the love of apples! I read somewhere that most of the earlist apples grown in the US were used to make make hard apple cider. It was more popular than beer until the 1830s.

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  5. Thanks for the comments. Fred – That’s true, and thanks for reminding me about it. In fact, I believe that “hard cider” is still redundant back in the mothership: what we call cider, the English call apple juice. I believe that’s also what Johnny Appleseed had in mind – a real person, as you probably know, and a candidate for sainthood if there ever was one!

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  6. It’s a beautiful print, Dave, and the story that goes with it too. I love apple trees, and apples, as you know but have never seen one like the one in your photo. The ones I remember most from Vermont were small and nearly triangular . I did a little painting and a print of one.

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  7. Well, there’s no doubt a well-pruned tree bears little resemblance to the wild (or should we say “feral”) tree in these pictures.

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  8. What a lovely print — and story to go with it! In Quebec there’s quite a new industry growing for fancy hard cider, bottled and priced like wine. Why not?

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  9. It’s a lovely print and a great story to go with it.

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  10. Hey Dave – I really enjoyed this story. I am the son of Richard and Jay. Thank you for the glimpse of my parents as young adults about the age I am now. Reading this was very special to me.

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  11. Hi Jovian – Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment here. I’m glad you found it worthwhile. Please do pass the link on to your parents if you get a chance. I searched for their contact information when I posted it, but couldn’t turn anything up, and figured sooner or later, through the power of the Google, they would see it.

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  12. Hi Dave,
    Thank you for your beautiful thoughts and memories of our
    time together with you, your parents,your brothers,and all
    the diversity of wildlife on Plummer’s richly forested ridge. I have many good memories of my time there, and I
    enjoy showing friends your mom’s book with the map of Plummer’s Hollow in it.I remember that even back then,you
    and your brothers were writing a monthly newsletter complete with original artwork.
    I’m now living in Black Mtn.,NC. with 2 cats, 1 dog and my son Gabe who is temporarily between places. Besides doing etchings,I’m part of ‘A Bee Lover’s Garden’ an LLC that will soon have a website. We’re hoping to give part of our profits to Bee research. I’m also having a one person show of etchings and paintings opening March 1st at Community Church in Chapel Hill,NC. with 35% of sales to benefit the ‘Southern Environmental Law Center’ where my son Jovian works doing their G.I.S.work.
    Jovian was the one who showed me your article,and I was touched and delighted. My mom was too. She’s 88 years old
    and lives in Flagstaff. AZ.next door to my sister on one
    side and National Forest Land,(where she walks everyday)
    on the other.I have paintings she did of the house you live in, and of the spring house across the driveway, hanging in my home.
    Almost 2 years ago, after 31 years, Richard told me he
    wanted to leave the marriage. This was a shock to me and
    our sons and our friends, as I thought we had a good relationship. It’s made me take a close look at what I want the rest of my life to be like. I realize that I have work I love, Many wonderful friends, loving sons and family, good health, and lots of beautiful places hike.
    ‘Life is Good!’
    Jay

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  13. Jay! How wonderful to hear from you again! I’m glad you’re still living the good – creative – life, though I’m awfully sorry to hear about the divorce. (My main association for Black Mountain, I’m afraid, is the old Bessie Smith song, Black Mountain Blues. The protagonist of that song had a somewhat less peaceful reaction to her man’s departure, though.) I remember your mother well – her portraits of us kids still hang in my parents’ stairway – and I’m tickled to hear that she’s still alive. She and my mother exchanged Christmas cards for many years. It also sounds as if your kids inherited your values. The Southern Environmental Law Center is an outstanding conservation organization, one of the few really uncompromising groups in the East, I think. The bee lover’s garden sounds like a worthwhile effort too.

    If you ever come north, be sure to stop by. I’m sure we’d all enjoy catching up with you. (My brother Steve has settled nearby, too – he lives in Tryone and teaches at Penn State Altoona.) Take care.

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  14. I bought number 29 of Flowing Maple at the Southern Highland Craft Guild in 2002…….it is a calming
    influence in my house. I am glad I decided to look
    for Ms. Pfeil on Google……

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    1. Nice to hear from an owner of one of Jay’s more recent works. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

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