Appleseed’s Progress: Preamble, Part III

Book III of “Eden to Ohio”

Indians, Johnny Appleseed, U.S.

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What was the appearance of this Ohio when first by Chapman seen.  This “Ohio”

translated from the Seneca, Ohi:yo [oh-hee-yoh], “continuously spilling creek”

was a crisscross of rivers, a glaciated bottom-land, a land set-to-flame by the pre-Columbian residents (the Indians) who burned the country at 30 to 40 acres per person … which, at eighteen million, XV Century North American residents, was an inferno unparalleled in human history:

George Catlin, Prairie Meadows Burning, 1832, Smithsonian American Art Museum

yes, the populations that flooded our America through the Bering Strait, and — as many now guess — in sail across the Atlantic, nearly burned the country down.  Granted, by the time Chapman first viewed Ohio, new-growth forests had here-and-there returned, yet the landscape pictured was “the bison-barren savanna” described by Jefferson, a savanna created by 4,000 years of ceaseless burning.  Then too, towering above Ohio’s savanna, throughout the Northwest Territory, great earth-mounds as-high-as ten stories and as-long-as a quarter mile —some, heaps of bones, others, the base of pagan temples.

Newcom House, 1831, Dayton, Ohio

So, as you can see, when Chapman and other colonialists entered the United States’ Northwest Territory, the flat, burned land was open for settlement, was sparse in dangerous game (from Indian over-hunting and mass-kills); sparse, except for those slithering, rattling, venomous creatures who like a boggy acre.  Otherwise, you might picture Ohio then as Ohio now, excepting that now the navigable rivers are supplemented by highways; excepting that bison have given-way to fenced cattle, and that now the clean, homey, white Greek temple farmhouse has replaced the insect-rich wigwam as the preferred human shelter.             

George Catlin, Civilization of the Indian, 1831, Smithsonian

Of Ohio’s majority, XVIII Century population: some few were feather-capped alike extravagant XIX Century city ladies; most wore practical clothing, for men, hide pants and jackets, for women, shirts or dresses; all wore the comfortable moccasin, except on those summer days when the feel of full grasses upon the nude foot is pleasingly luscious.  Granted, men would, on occasion, ware makeup boldly painted, even so, only for events more rare than the Friday-night-date, and both men and women wore large, statement jewelry. 

Here, it must be admitted that styles change with seasons and that people come-and-go — we all are constantly on the move.  For instance, the Cherokee, (that Mediterranean, possibly Greek people who we find upon the shores of Lake Superior at the eruption of Thera volcano) trekked across the wide Ohio savanna to settle after many a mishap, some violent, around the Carolinas; or, alike the Irish (Celts) who driven by the English and the long famine migrated through Michigan and Ohio to settle in Illinois, and beyond; or, alike the Germans (Goths) who fleeing religious persecution followed a similar, westward trail.  Each great tribe of migrating people carried baggage, costumes and traditions into and through Ohio, some more odd, more particular, more peculiar than others.

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In person, our hero, Johnny Appleseed, produced a queer, comforting aspect: clothed in home-spun, cast-off, coffee or potato sack; he bootless trod the Indian-thin savanna, sometimes three hatted, the uppermost a handled copper pot comfortably balanced, allowing the hands freedom for navigation, for defense, and for picker clearing —as we free-handers who have forged the prickly field and tangled wood well know.  Johnny’s person was small knotty, tight and restless; his face, lean drawn, black-beard full; long raven his hair; hard dark his eye, alike the agate stone that swallows the sun, that sees into the night long along savanna’s stretch, and, when fire-lit, the agate eye looks deep into the human soul. 

Aliki, writer-illustrator, Johnny Appleseed, 1971

So looked was Johnny, and those who saw remembered: they remembered the healing herbs, the dandelions belt-tucked, the seed-bag over shoulder slung, the good books tight-in-hand, the wilderness voice birch-whispered or broad-cracking alike the mighty oak, then, upon occasion, voiced alike the howl wind makes when breathing through the leaf-mane of Ohio’s upright elm: So spoke Johnny, and when Johnny spoke, the people remembered.

You might think of Johnny as an old-fashioned Baptist, a John of the river Jordan, blessing those open to territories beyond knowing, baptizing the good, brave Ohio souls navigating as best-as-can life’s many vicissitudes, chances, accidents, necessities.  In necessity, the apple’s blessing helps in food, drink, property, and in pleasure, both when fruit upon the tongue and in memory upon the brain; and then, in flower upon the eye, delightfully white at springtide, growing season-into-season golden-red rich.  You might think of Johnny as a brave frontiersman, tough, bold and strong, seeking truth, adventure just out-of-reach. You might consider Johnny in colonization, a businessman of the ancient tradition, of classive civilization, a patriot of Liberty extending the fruits of cultivation, of American virtue and the American way across the land to colonize the unknown, magnificent beyond.  You might think of Johnny as a passing friend who in passing leaves for you the surprise of a gold-red treasure before he blinks and disappears.  This is how I think of Johnny. 

Roundabout us there is yet the remnant of Johnny:

            old maps of Appleseed nurseries, ax-battered by blinkered government revenuers;

            prickly Appleseed stories pretty combed, tamed by polite literary ladies;

Last Surviving Appleseed Tree, Savannah, Ohio

            the one old Appleseed tree offering forth the pitted, hard, bitter apple unfriendly to the teeth, yet pleasing to the tongue when winter juiced and enflamed;

            and then there are the few, small, knotty old Appleseed stories, tough, resilient, offering pretty spring blossoms, hard fall fruit which you might picture plucked for eating from Antietam to Toledo, and beyond;

            by the gloved and hatted Sunday girl who plucks the fruit for her eager beau;

            the rotten ones in mock battle by lusty boys thrown; those by ma basket collected, squashed and sugar sauced;

            those in cellar and woods yeasted, stored, awaited, and grinning, sipped;

            that one on a crisp fall day, white teeth bit, tight lip soured and smiled, the blink, rose cheek and delight in those idyllic, beautiful days before electric noise and gaseous odor;

            even today, pixilated children might joy to learn of an apple-rich world unvirtualized, unprogressed, free and natural and fun, real fun, unwatched, unmonitored, a place to be bad in being good.  

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As I was saying, wherefrom my people both sides come is lost to memory.  Yours too, I would hope.  Truly, who among us wishes to be stamped and catalogued, really.  While yet we are Americans all, Appleseed will live in memory, in the bones of our trees, our children, of us yet living … we can hope.  All too soon we will be pixelated, consumed by the ravenous, giant, social media, the smothering government blanket, we will flat live in screens polite and impotent, tasteless, formless, frivolous, less men than light screens, a rote of lessons and nodding yeses. 

The author’s Ohio ancestors, the Westphal Westfalls of Appleseed Country.

Here, a cadence, a caesura: You will remember the Cynic, the philosopher and vagabond, Diogenes, who when airing himself of the stink from his large, storage jar of a home, found himself in the young, king Alexander’s (the Great) long shadow. There followed an introduction to the king, and Alexander asked the destitute, naked Diogenes if there was anything that he, the great king might do for the jar-homed, disheveled philosopher; “Yes,” Diogenes the Cynic answered, “you can step aside, stop blocking my light.”  As for myself, I much favor Alexander, yet, sometimes, best to step away and unblock the light. 

Well then, I cannot in truth tell much of John Chapman, few, if any, can.  Of Johnny Appleseed, well, I mean to say, he is my people, of my begetting, a friend, a neighbor, my family; of this Appleseed I have much to tell. 

Appleseed's Progress Cover

In the screen-novella, Appleseed’s Progress (Volume III of “Eden to Ohio”, released today, June 30, 2020), a telling of some seven excellent adventures not commonly known, yet true in the nature of such things.  You understand, true of stories, of myths and of legends, true in the words that live in our bones, in our imagination transcendent and everlasting. 

Here, beneath a guileless cover live apple-seed rich ideas, Johnny tellings by which we Americans realize ourselves in our self. And there it is … I hope you will enjoy the story; I hope that you will take these adventures, this book as your own.

Appleseed’s Progress , Volume III of “Eden to Ohio”, available now.

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Mosaic of Dominus Julius, Carthage, late IV to early V A.D.

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