An apple orchard in Jackson, Ohio.

An apple orchard in Jackson, Ohio.

A new novel from Tracy Chevalier, bestselling author of “Girl With A Pearl Earring:” A nineteenth-century pioneer family fights for survival in Ohio’s Black Swamp. It’s a story about warring parents, a son who breaks free, and the legendary Johnny Appleseed.

Guests

  • Tracy Chevalier best-selling author of "Girl With A Pearl Earring" and "Burning Bright."

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier, published on March 15, 2016 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright by Tracy Chevalier, 2016.

At The Edge Of The Orchard

Transcript

  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In Tracy Chevalier's new novel, the Goodenough family travels west in search of new land and opportunities. They soon find themselves stuck in the black swamp of northwest Ohio struggling to survive. Set in mid-19th century America, it's the story of warring parents and their five children, the apple trees they depend on and the son who breaks away. The book is titled "At The Edge Of The Orchard." Author Tracy Chevalier joins me here.

  • 11:07:33

    MS. DIANE REHMWe welcome your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Find us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Tracy, it's good to have you here.

  • 11:07:51

    MS. TRACY CHEVALIERDiane, it's so great to be back, thanks.

  • 11:07:53

    REHMThank you. You know, I think we ought to say right up front that this book is no "Little House On the Prairie." Wow, what a book.

  • 11:08:06

    CHEVALIERI think it's kind of a very dark version of "Little House On The Prairie." And, you know, I loved the "Little House" books growing up and when I started researching "At The Edge Of The Orchard," I reread all the books as well a nonfiction book that came out recently last year called "Pioneer Girl" by Laura Ingalls Wilder. It was the original nonfiction memoir she wrote, which is what she thought she was going to publish first.

  • 11:08:37

    CHEVALIERAnd she sent it to an editor and the editor said, you know, there's some great stories in here. I think that you should write about them for children. So she ended up fictionalizing her autobiography and in doing that, she chose very specific tropes, like moving west. Pa Ingalls is always moving them west, whereas in reality, you find out in "Pioneer Girl," they did move east at one point toward -- from one place to Iowa and worked in a hotel full of drunk people and had a terrible time.

  • 11:09:13

    CHEVALIERAnd she cut all of that out. So some of the darker stuff...

  • 11:09:16

    REHMI see.

  • 11:09:16

    CHEVALIER...I think she really wanted to push this idea of the individualism, of going west as always being something that cleanses you, that you find freedom, you find land, you get -- nobody's bothering you and that's what she did with those books. And that's what I explore in this book.

  • 11:09:37

    REHMBut you've gone in almost the opposite direction. The Black Swamp of Ohio proves to be kind of a metaphor for the family and it's muck and the life they live together, the struggles they have together. A drunken, abusive mother, a father who rages inside, who is abusive toward his wife and then there are the apples. Talk about the apples.

  • 11:10:22

    CHEVALIERThe apples, in this time period, is in the 1830s. When settlers moved to Ohio, one of the requirements when you claimed some property was that you had to plant 50 viable fruit trees within three years of arriving. It was a kind of way of saying, I'm staying here. I'm not going to move on. And so the Goodenoughs arrive in the Black Swamp and the Black Swamp is an area of Northwest Ohio just south of Toledo and it was the last part of Ohio to be settled because it was so awful.

  • 11:11:01

    REHMAwful.

  • 11:11:02

    CHEVALIERYes, and...

  • 11:11:03

    REHMJust awful.

  • 11:11:03

    CHEVALIERA lot of people, a lot of settlers that were actually aiming for Indiana, but got stuck in the Black Swamp because -- literally stuck because the mud was so bad, there was a notorious road the settlers would go along in their wagons and their horses broke their legs in the mud or the wheels would get so stuck that they'd have to -- they could, like, half a mile a day and they'd finally give up. So they'd settle in the Black Swamp.

  • 11:11:27

    CHEVALIERThe swamp was full of -- was very difficult to grow things and there were tons of mosquitoes. They used to have to wear mittens in August in order to keep from getting bitten and they got the swamp fever all the time and so the Goodenoughs, when they settled there and they plant their trees, they have ten children and five of them die from swamp fever. And this was not an exaggeration. I based a lot of the details of the Black Swamp on entries of -- there's a couple of books that were compiled of people's recollections of living there in the 19th century.

  • 11:12:01

    REHMTheir journeys of trying to get through.

  • 11:12:02

    CHEVALIERSo there are all sorts of details like that. The smudge pots they had to burn, the fact that the mud was so bad, you'd come in at the end of the day and you'd be -- your trousers would be so muddy, you'd take them off and you could stand them up in the corner because they would -- when they dried, they were so muddy.

  • 11:12:17

    REHMAnd some of the children, rather than having their boots fill up with the awful mud or their shoes fill up, would walk barefoot through that awful muck.

  • 11:12:32

    CHEVALIERExactly.

  • 11:12:32

    REHMBut what surprised me, absolutely surprised me, was the idea that you could take that muck and out of it create an apple orchard.

  • 11:12:46

    CHEVALIERYes. It required a lot of clearance and draining, but you could grow apple trees. And James Goodenough loves his apple trees. The family has come from Connecticut and there his family, his parents grew a tree that originally came from England. It was called a Golden Pippen, that's what they know it as. And he brings branches of it with him as they go west with the intention of grafting a couple of Golden Pippins for his orchard so that he can have that sweet taste from back home, back east.

  • 11:13:20

    REHMWhich has a pineapple...

  • 11:13:22

    CHEVALIERPineapple finish, yes.

  • 11:13:23

    REHMExactly. It's just wonderful. But even there, he and his wife, Sadie, have this terrible argument. She has become an alcoholic, in effect, because she prefers the apples that do not -- are not there for eating, but rather to make an alcoholic beverage.

  • 11:13:49

    CHEVALIERYes, either cider or her preference, apple jack, which is a kind of apple brandy. And, yes, I found out about this -- I had the idea for this couple who fight over apples from reading a book my Michael Pollan. It's called "The Botany of Desire." And in it, there's a whole section on apples and he talks about Johnny Appleseed who was active in the Ohio and Indiana area during this time. And that was what gave me the idea. What Pollan said was, we have this vision of this folk hero who promoted healthy eating, apples, sweet apples.

  • 11:14:29

    CHEVALIERAnd the reality was most of the trees that Johnny Appleseed sold were -- to settlers produced sour apples because botanically, if you grow an apple from seed, which is what he did, most of the time the tree that grows will produce sour apples rather than sweet apples. If you want sweet apples, you have to graft the tree. You have to choose a sweet apple-producing tree and take a branch from that and graft it onto another tree.

  • 11:14:55

    CHEVALIERAnd Johnny Appleseed didn't believe in grafting so he sold people trees that were mostly for making cider and apple jack. And it was a kind of obliteration. It was a way of, for Sadie Goodenough, it's a way of obliterating or anesthetizing herself from this difficult life that she's got. So there are these two sorts of apples, the sweet and the sour.

  • 11:15:20

    REHMAnd, of course, Johnny Appleseed, with his true name, makes an appearance in this novel.

  • 11:15:29

    CHEVALIERYes. He has a small but important role and I was fascinated by what I learned about him. You know, some of the things that we know of him or we think of him as a folk hero were true. He, apparently, did wear a tin pot for a hat sometimes and he didn't care much about his clothes and he went barefoot. He was more or less vegetarian. He was quite a loner. But he was always seen as being very benevolent and giving away seeds and trees as much as selling them.

  • 11:16:01

    CHEVALIERAnd, actually, he was a business man. He was very canny. He anticipated by a few years where settlers were going to go in Ohio. He would go there first in his canoe along the streams and rivers. He did have a canoe. And he would plant a nursery of apples, apple trees and then by the time the settlers came, the trees would be old enough. He would sell them to them and he made a bit of money and most of it -- I mean, I think what's really unusual about him, which the mythology of him and the folk hero that you learn as a school child, you're never gonna know about this, is that he belonged to a sect called the Swedenborgians.

  • 11:16:39

    CHEVALIERThey were followers of Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish theologian. And I think at that time in the 1830s, there were, like, 250 in the whole of the country, 250 Swedenborgians, and Johnny Appleseed used to take around leaflets, pamphlets and give them to people. He basically proselytized for this particular sect and he plowed most of his profits back into this -- to publicizing Swedenborgism. I'm not sure how successful he was, but -- so he would come.

  • 11:17:16

    CHEVALIERNot only would he sell people trees, he'd stay the night and he'd sleep by their hearth, as he does at Goodenoughs, and say, let me bring you fresh news straight from heaven and then would go on a kind of religious discursion, you know, discussion for a couple of hours.

  • 11:17:30

    REHMAnd beyond that, Sadie Goodenough becomes enamored of Johnny Appleseed, who is known in the book as John Chapman.

  • 11:17:45

    CHEVALIERYes.

  • 11:17:45

    REHMSo there we have it, the outlines of really an amazing book. It's titled "At The Edge Of The Orchard." Tracy Chevalier, also author of "Girl With The Pearl Earring" is here. Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 11:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. Tracy Chevalier is with me. Her new novel is titled "At the Edge of the Orchard" and talks about the Goodenough family, who are a very, very troubled group of people, as Tracy said earlier. There were originally 10 children in the family, five of whom die of swamp fever or one thing after another. Here's an email from Laura in Ellicott City, Maryland. She said, I'm so excited to hear about a new book from Tracy. Upon finishing "Remarkable Creatures" and recommending it to my book club, I decided to go to Lyme Regis myself. Fortunately, I already have a trip to England planned in late May, so Lyme is on my itinerary.

  • 11:21:12

    REHMThat must give you great pleasure that people become so involved in your novels. I mean, after "Girl with a Pearl Earring" became a movie, oh my God, that was so glorious.

  • 11:21:27

    CHEVALIERYeah, well, it does give me huge pleasure. Laura, have a wonderful time. Go and look for some fossils on the beach. And there's a museum in Lyme Regis where they said -- they ask when people come in what brought them to the museum, and they -- since that book came out in 2010, it's upped the visitor level quite a lot.

  • 11:21:45

    REHMIsn't that wonderful?

  • 11:21:48

    CHEVALIERAnd I also know that a lot of readers write to me and say, oh, I read "The Lady and the Unicorn," which is about medieval tapestries that are at the Clooney Museum in Paris, and they say, and I'm planning a trip to Paris, or they're going to The Hague to see "Girl with a Pearl Earring" in the flesh. So I'm always thrilled.

  • 11:22:06

    CHEVALIERNow the question about whether I will get -- manage to convince people to go to the Black Swamp, however, I'm not sure.

  • 11:22:10

    REHMI doubt that very seriously. I want to talk about the relationship between James and Sadie Goodenough because it really is so -- it's almost vicious. She knows when she is provoking him to hit her. He knows when he is just out of patience with her.

  • 11:22:49

    CHEVALIERYeah, yeah.

  • 11:22:51

    REHMAnd it all happens right in front of the children. I found myself wondering, as I was reading this, knowing the kind of research that you always do, whether there are accounts of these pioneers who -- who really have such a tough time that that's what they resort to rather than the idealized form we had in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books.

  • 11:23:27

    CHEVALIERI hate to say it, but it is true that there was a lot of abuse at that time. And part -- it goes hand in hand with a very difficult life. To choose to be a pioneer is -- you have very little -- little community. Particularly in the Black Swamp, there were very few neighbors because it was -- there were not that many people there. And there was also a lot of alcoholism. People turned to drink in order to get to escape.

  • 11:23:52

    REHMTo forget.

  • 11:23:52

    CHEVALIERAnd so you put those two things together, and you often had a lot of wife abuse, but you -- in this book, it's the other way around. They abuse each other.

  • 11:24:04

    REHMYes they do.

  • 11:24:04

    CHEVALIERAnd it's really a portrait of a dysfunctional family and a 19th-century dysfunctional family and the effect that that violence between them has on the children. So the book isn't all and completely set in the Black Swamp, only half of it is, and it's -- the rest of it is the effect of, particularly on Robert Goodenough, their young son, who ends up going west. And this is a book very much about that American impetus to go west to escape your problems and to find a way to -- if things are bad in one place, well, maybe if you go west, and that was very much part of the "Little House" books, as I mentioned before, is, you know, there's -- the crops have failed, let's move west to see if we can find better land.

  • 11:24:50

    CHEVALIERAnd Robert Goodenough keeps going west and keeps going west to escape this family trauma, and eventually, about 15 years later, he reaches the Pacific Ocean, and he looks out and thinks, now what do I do.

  • 11:25:05

    REHMThere's nowhere else to go.

  • 11:25:06

    CHEVALIERThere's nowhere else to go, I have to turn back around and face what happened.

  • 11:25:10

    REHMAt one point in the novel, as Sadie and James are going to a gathering of farmers, to a revival meeting, as it were, which is an opportunity for them to meet and talk with their other neighbors. James is very discouraged on his way there and says to Sadie, almost in the only moment of intimacy between them in the entire book, you know, I'm not sure I can keep on doing this.

  • 11:25:57

    CHEVALIERYeah.

  • 11:25:58

    REHMI feel myself weakening. It's taking a lot of strength out of me. And the process of trying to graft these apples to create protections not only against the deer but against Sadie herself.

  • 11:26:19

    CHEVALIERYes, yes, Sadie doesn't like the apple trees. She's jealous of them because he spends a lot more time...

  • 11:26:25

    REHMWith them.

  • 11:26:26

    CHEVALIERTending to his apple trees than he does with her. And so James puts up this spiked fence around the new grafts, supposedly to save them from deer but really also to save them from her. So yeah, it's -- the apples is a very difficult moment, difficult flashpoint between them. They probably never should have married, shall we put it that way.

  • 11:26:54

    REHMI wonder why they did. Take us back to Connecticut, where they met.

  • 11:26:58

    CHEVALIERI think James is one of the youngest -- he's the second-youngest son of six, and there's not -- there aren't many prospects for him. And I think that he and Sadie had a moment of lust in an orchard, and it led to marriage, but she actually preferred his younger brother, who is much more willing to go -- probably to go further west than Ohio. And one point Sadie muses about -- she hates trees. She just thinks trees are the enemy because when you reach a -- when you have to settle in a very treed area, to grow anything, to grow crops or an orchard, to clear space around a cabin, to make a cabin, you have to cut down trees and pull them up.

  • 11:27:44

    CHEVALIERThe hardest part about clearance is getting out those roots, and for her this is all just -- and if you don't watch out, the trees come back, they grow up again. And she just hates it all, and she says there's a place out west I hear is called prairie. I want to go there because there's no trees there at all. And she thinks of this other brother.

  • 11:28:04

    REHMCharles.

  • 11:28:04

    CHEVALIERMaybe it would've been better with Charlie to go further west. And I think it's just one of those mismatched marriages, where they're stuck with each other and their children and in the middle of the swamp, and they have to make the best of it. But they get into this pattern of goading each other, particularly Sadie, and I think I found it -- she -- most of the rest of the book is told in third person, but Sadie's is in first person because she's such a strong character and a strong voice, I realized I needed her to tell her story herself. And she -- but she's very tough that way, and I think it was a -- it's a very strong, strong voice that needs, needs airing.

  • 11:28:50

    REHMAnd you might just air that voice right now.

  • 11:28:58

    CHEVALIERI was used to his slaps, didn't bother me none. Fighting over apples was just what we did. Funny, I didn't think much about apples before we'd come to the Black Swamp. When I was growing up, we had an orchard like everybody else, but I didn't pay no attention except when the blossom was out in May. Then I'd go and lie there, smelling some sweet perfume and listening to the bees hum so happy because they had flowers to play with. That was where James and I lay our first time together. I should've known then he wasn't for me. He was so busy inspecting my family's trees and asking how old each was and what the fruit was like, juice like me, I said, That finally I had to unbutton my dress myself. That shut him up a while.

  • 11:29:48

    CHEVALIERI never was a good picker. Ma said I was too quick, let too many drop and pulled off the stems of the rest. I was quick because I wanted to get it done. I used two hands to twist and pull two apples, and then the third would drop and bruise, and we'd have to gather up all the bruised one separate and cook them up right away into apple butter. Beginning of each season, ma and pa would get me picking until they remembered about that third apple always dropping. So they put me onto gathering the windfalls that were bruised and damaged from falling off the tree.

  • 11:30:21

    CHEVALIERWindfalls weren't all bad apples. They could still be stewed or made into cider. Or they'd have me cooking or slicing rings to dry. I liked the slicing. If you cut an apple across the core rather than along it, you get the seeds making flowers or stars in the middle of the circle. I told John Chapman once, and he smiled at me. God's ways, he said, you're smart to see that, Sadie. Only time anyone ever called me smart.

  • 11:30:55

    CHEVALIERJames wouldn't let me touch the trees -- the apples on his trees, either, his precious 38 trees. Oh, I knew how many he had. He thought I wasn't listening when he was rattling through his numbers, but drunk or not, I heard him because he repeated himself so much. When we was married back in Connecticut, he learned real quick how many apples I spoiled. So in the Black Swamp, he got some of the children to pick them, Martha and Robert and Sal. He wouldn't let Caleb or Nathan pick, said we were all too rough. He was like a little old woman with his trees, drove me crazy.

  • 11:31:33

    REHMTracy Chevalier, reading from her new novel, "At the Edge of the Orchard." She kind of tells it like it is, doesn't she?

  • 11:31:47

    CHEVALIERYes, she does, she does, but a little of her goes a long way. I found when I was writing her, I wanted to try to find a way to make her sympathetic, as well. It's very easy to dislike her, but I wanted to give some moments of feeling sorry for her, of feeling that she's feeling isolated, she made some wrong choices, and she cares about her family even though she doesn't always let on.

  • 11:32:13

    REHMBut she doesn't have any friends.

  • 11:32:14

    CHEVALIERNo.

  • 11:32:15

    REHMNobody likes her. Even her own family wasn't crazy about her.

  • 11:32:20

    CHEVALIERI know, I know, but she's -- on the other hand when you see somebody being isolated by other people, sometimes you really feel for them.

  • 11:32:29

    REHMAnd you ended of feeling sorry for her.

  • 11:32:32

    CHEVALIERI did. I don't know if my readers will, but we'll see.

  • 11:32:37

    REHMYeah, it's interesting because she almost goes out of her way to make herself unlikeable, even with her next-door neighbor. And once again the book is called "At the Edge of the Orchard," New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier. Now we've got lots of callers.

  • 11:33:09

    CHEVALIEROkay.

  • 11:33:10

    REHMSo let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Mitsi in Cleveland, Ohio. You're on the air.

  • 11:33:22

    MITSIThank you, and thank you for your show.

  • 11:33:26

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:33:27

    MITSIWe love it. And I would like to say I am a 1967 graduate of Oberlin College, and I'm curious to know, Ms. Chevalier, about how Oberlin influenced your life.

  • 11:33:40

    CHEVALIERYes, I went to Oberlin. I was class of 1984. And I think I always knew that I -- when I was in high school, it was kind of a no-brainer that I would go to Oberlin. It suited me well. I knew it had a great English department, and so I was an English major, and I guess I learned how to be open-minded there and how to think for myself. I was also -- I was from Washington, D.C., so I was a real city kid, and suddenly to get out into a small Ohio town was a real eye-opener, and I loved that. In fact I loved it so much that my last novel, "The Last Runaway," set in Ohio, just outside of Oberlin. And so for that novel and also for "At the Edge of the Orchard," I did quite a lot of driving around little Ohio roads and enjoying the small-town life and the countryside.

  • 11:34:33

    CHEVALIERAnd I sometimes think Ohio gets a bit of a bad rap, and maybe my books will change that a little bit. I don't know.

  • 11:34:42

    REHMYou know, my son, David Rehm, also is a graduate of Oberlin. He majored in music and created a major for himself, intellectual history.

  • 11:35:00

    CHEVALIERWow.

  • 11:35:01

    REHMAnd then went on to a Ph.D. in philosophy. But Oberlin for him was just absolute magic.

  • 11:35:12

    CHEVALIERPerfect.

  • 11:35:13

    REHMJust a great, great school. All right, let's -- let's go to Toledo, Ohio. Andrew, (PH) you're on the air.

  • 11:35:24

    ANDREWYes, I just learned of your book today. It sounds really fascinating. I always love hearing new books about the Toledo area, whether fiction or nonfiction. And my question is what would be the nearest existing town in northwest Ohio where this farm is located?

  • 11:35:44

    CHEVALIEROh, that's such a good question, Andrew. I drove around the area, and I found -- but I didn't choose the specific field it was in until I got home. It sounds kind of strange, but I -- I spent some time in Perrysburg, I spent some time in the nature reserves that were -- that are the -- the tiny remnants left of the Black Swamp. But where I ended up -- where I ended up setting the farm is off of the Portage -- Portage River. And I can't -- if I had the map in front of me, I could tell you the tiny crossroads it's at, but it's sort of -- it would be southeast of Toledo.

  • 11:36:28

    CHEVALIERIs there a route -- is it Route 22?

  • 11:36:31

    ANDREWThere's U.S. 20 and 24.

  • 11:36:34

    CHEVALIERIt was -- I think it's U.S. 20. It's a -- it goes south -- it goes northwest to southeast, and it's kind of -- so it's a diagonal route, and it was off of there, right by the Portage River.

  • 11:36:45

    ANDREWOh, okay. Oh, okay, that would be probably U.S. 20 through Wood -- from Freemont to (unintelligible)

  • 11:36:51

    CHEVALIERYeah, a little bit north of Freemont.

  • 11:36:54

    MITSIIs where the climb would be?

  • 11:36:56

    CHEVALIERYeah, we're getting really specific here. To all those people in the Toledo area, you're all nodding away. The rest of the country is going where?

  • 11:37:02

    REHMYeah, exactly. All right, Andrew, thanks so much for your call. And after a short break, we'll come back, take more of your calls, your email for Tracy Chevalier on her new book, "At the Edge of the Orchard." Stay with us.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMWelcome back. If you've just joined us, Tracy Chevalier is with me. She is of course the author of the extraordinary "Girl with the Pearl Earring." Her latest equally enthralling is titled, "At the Edge of the Orchard." And, Tracy, one character we should talk about a little more is Robert. He is such a sympathetic character, following his father around, watching as he grafts the trees and then covers the graft with a material almost cement like in order to protect it from breaking.

  • 11:40:54

    REHMAnd there are times when, of course, Sadie goes out there and deliberately breaks up something that James has put together. Finally, the destructive relationship between the two drives Robert off. He had to go. He had to go.

  • 11:41:16

    CHEVALIERHe's only nine years old, though. Yeah, yeah.

  • 11:41:20

    REHMThis poor little boy. And he's writing letters home. What happens to those letters?

  • 11:41:28

    CHEVALIERWell, every New Year's Day for the next 16 years he writes a letter to his family home. And he ends up going -- he ends up in Detroit and Wisconsin, eventually the Missouri territory.

  • 11:41:42

    REHMHe just keeps moving.

  • 11:41:43

    CHEVALIERDown to Texas and finally to California with the gold rush. And he writes this letter every year -- not every single year, but most years, just to try to reconnect with the family a little bit. And he doesn't know how to write to start with. And he learns over -- through the letters you see the progression of his learning, how to spell and things like that. And -- but it's kind of heartbreaking because letters in those days, they took months to get anywhere.

  • 11:42:09

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:42:10

    CHEVALIERAnd you never really know if they are gonna get there. They often -- letters got lost very easily. And he never -- he gives them addresses to where he's gonna be for the next while and he never hears anything back.

  • 11:42:22

    REHMNot a word.

  • 11:42:23

    CHEVALIERAnd so finally when he's in California, it's just too -- he finds it too painful. And he says, this is my last letter.

  • 11:42:32

    REHMLast letter.

  • 11:42:33

    CHEVALIERAnd then he wanders around in California.

  • 11:42:36

    REHMHe meets up with a scientist from England who is a tree person. And where does he meet him?

  • 11:42:47

    CHEVALIERYeah. Well, he meets a man named William Lobb, who also existed. And very much like Johnny Appleseed, he's a sort of -- he deals in trees. It's the commerce of trees because trees follow people around just the way, you know, people migrate and so do trees alongside them. So apple trees were brought originally from Kazakhstan, along the Silk Route to Persia and to the Romans, who brought them to England, and English settlers brought them to America.

  • 11:43:16

    CHEVALIERAnd William Lobb is an English naturalist who sent seedlings and seeds to England of California conifers, including redwoods. And these trees, the giant sequoias, you know those huge trees that are like redwoods, but they have these massive trunks that are about 30' in diameter. And he'd send those back so that Victorian gardeners could plant them in their gardens. And you can see them still. These trees are about 150 years old, sequoias and redwoods all over England.

  • 11:43:50

    CHEVALIERAnd Robert meets William Lobb in a place called Calaveras Grove. It's a couple of hours east of San Francisco. You can go there now and see these beautiful giant sequoias. It's where they were first discovered by settlers. And they bond over these trees. And Robert starts working for him, to gather seedlings and send them to England. And he finally seems to find some sort of solace there amongst trees. Because trees are kind of the touchstone of his life.

  • 11:44:26

    REHMAbsolutely. Here's an email from Bill in Ohio, who asks, "Do you think the canals and draining of the Great Black Swamp erased the remembrance or recognition for the hardships the settlers faced? What role did the later German Catholic pioneers play in taming the region?"

  • 11:44:58

    CHEVALIERI think that you -- this isn't unique to the Black Swamp. It's all kinds of areas that were tamed by settlers all over America. Because that's what the burgeoning population had to do, is find a way to live on this land. And yes, unfortunately it means that some history is lost there. And we can see a little bit of the Black Swamp left in nature reserves, but it's very tame compared to what it had been. But I think it's very hard to stop progress.

  • 11:45:29

    REHMYes, yes.

  • 11:45:29

    CHEVALIERI suppose you'd say that's in the name of progress. And it's very difficult, but I found it, as I was traveling around -- and yes, there are canals. There's a canal system in that area, which -- and most of it has been drained. And you really have to have -- use your imagination to figure out what it could have been like. Like, taking a little tiny nature reserve and thinking, okay, it was like this, except without the concrete paths that you can walk along. And it was -- it took over all over the place. But it's very difficult to preserve the past.

  • 11:46:03

    REHMTracy, I want to take you back to "Girl with the Pearl Earring," which I happened to watch again just the other evening. Tell us what that experience was like for you, seeing your extraordinarily well-researched book and feat of creative imagination brought to the screen.

  • 11:46:33

    CHEVALIERIt was a really magical experience for me. There's something about having an idea in your head and seeing it made into almost a mini-industry while it was being made. That is so surprising. I remember when I was visiting the set and I was going around the offices of the production people and the designers and the costume makers and all of that. And all over these rooms were posters of Vermeer paintings and books that I had used for research.

  • 11:47:05

    CHEVALIERAnd someone said to me, Tracy, you realize that the idea you had in your head has created this industry that's actually paying people's jobs for two months. And I -- it was a very concrete way of looking at it. And I thought, wow, that is really strange and wonderful. So I was -- I found the whole experience a delightful one. And I know I'm kind of lucky in that way because I know other writers have not had such an easy ride. But I think that the film was respectful of the book, while also being its own thing and telling the story in its own way. And it looked beautiful. We were lucky to have Scarlett Johansson and early in her career.

  • 11:47:43

    REHMYes, yes.

  • 11:47:46

    CHEVALIERAnd it was -- so I had a -- just a wonderful time with it.

  • 11:47:49

    REHMNow, did you have anything to do with the adaptation of the book to the movie?

  • 11:47:56

    CHEVALIERNo. And I think that's why I had such a great time. Because I wasn't expected to fix it or make it filmable. I left it to the professionals. And it also meant that they protected me from all of the ups and downs of getting the finances together, getting the actors on board, getting the timing right. I think the hardest part of filmmaking, it looked like to me, was getting everybody in the same room at the same time.

  • 11:48:26

    CHEVALIEREverybody signing on to say I can do this then and I can release this money then and I can act then and bringing it all together. Much easier to be a writer, a novelist. You sit in a room on your own and write. And it was a very different experience. And I think that it was probably better that I stuck with what I know how to do and let them get on with it.

  • 11:48:46

    REHMI think of the Joad family and the Dust Bowl has kind of an analogy to the Black Swamp of Ohio and wonder if we shall see this on film, the "At the Edge of the Orchard."

  • 11:49:10

    CHEVALIERWho knows? I write in a very visual way.

  • 11:49:14

    REHMYou do.

  • 11:49:15

    CHEVALIERI do. What I tend to do in the -- when I'm writing a scene is I imagine the scene in my head, almost as if it's a little film in my head, and then I write down what I see. So it translates very easily into scenes in that sense. But, you know, it's very hard to tell what's going to be made into a film. One thing that really surprised me, I saw "The Revenant" a couple of months ago. And towards the end they get back to the fort. There's a fort there that's -- and at one point they mention the name of it, they said Fort Leavenworth.

  • 11:49:51

    CHEVALIERAnd I went, Robert Goodenough was there 20 years later in his letters. He writes a couple of letters from Fort Leavenworth.

  • 11:49:57

    REHMHe does, absolutely.

  • 11:49:58

    CHEVALIERAnd I thought, wow. And then I thought, oh, well, I guess that film's been made then.

  • 11:50:06

    REHMI don't think so. Not quite the same. But I have not seen "The Revenant." I'm not sure I'm ready to see "The Revenant."

  • 11:50:20

    CHEVALIERIt's quite violent. But then so is "At the Edge of the Orchard…"

  • 11:50:21

    REHMYes.

  • 11:50:22

    CHEVALIER…has its moments of violence.

  • 11:50:22

    REHMIt does. It does.

  • 11:50:24

    CHEVALIERBut they're not quite as unrelenting as "The Revenant."

  • 11:50:29

    REHMAnd somehow more personal in delivery in "At the Edge of the Orchard."

  • 11:50:38

    CHEVALIERI think that books are always more personal than film. It's personal because when you, the reader, read it you're actually physically holding the object, even if it's an e-reader. You're still -- it's with you. And you are creating the film in your head.

  • 11:50:57

    REHMTracy Chevalier, her new book is titled, "At the Edge of the Orchard." All right. We have someone calling from the Black Swamp. And that's Pamela in Defiance, Ohio. Pamela, you're on the air.

  • 11:51:24

    PAMELAGood morning. How are you?

  • 11:51:27

    REHMGood, thank you.

  • 11:51:27

    PAMELAI have really been enjoying this conversation this morning. And my comment was that there are a lot of neat, historical places, museums, places to see the canal, even out in the country, where I drive very often with my job, you can see the huge drainage ditches that probably at one time did help drain that. There is a canal where you can take a boat. And this is near Grand Rapids, Ohio, where you can actually take a boat and experience what it may -- something of what it may have been like back in one of the eras of that time. But it is a wonderful area. It's very flat. You would miss the mountains if you're from the mountains, but yet there's just a lot to recommend life here.

  • 11:52:24

    REHMDid you spend a fair amount of time there, Tracy?

  • 11:52:28

    CHEVALIERI spent some time. Pamela, it's great to hear from you, from somebody in that area. And I have to complement you on the name of your town. I loved Defiance. I loved the name so much that I actually had to go there just to see what it was like. I think I had lunch in a diner there on my through to somewhere else. And I really -- there's something about the Ohio landscape that it isn't flashy, but there -- it -- you feel really embedded in it when you're in it. And I really loved it for that.

  • 11:52:58

    CHEVALIERAnd I also wanted to say, we've worked out where exactly that farm is. You might have heard the earlier caller. I think it was Andrew who asked where exactly was the farm located. And it was -- it's near Luckey, L-U-C-K-E-Y. I don't know if that means anything to you in Defiance, but it's a tiny, tiny little crossroads. Does that -- do you know where that is?

  • 11:53:22

    PAMELAI do know where that is. We would be on the western -- sort of like the western edge of the Black Swamp area, I do believe.

  • 11:53:27

    CHEVALIERYeah.

  • 11:53:28

    PAMELABut, yes, I certainly do know where Luckey is.

  • 11:53:32

    CHEVALIERGood, good.

  • 11:53:32

    REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Pamela. And we have an email from Marshall in Michigan, who says, "Our central Ohio family lore has it that my maternal grandmother saw Johnny Appleseed when she was young. During what years was he active in Ohio? Also, I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland, where my father built a house that was in an old apple orchard. That's all part of my childhood memories and DNA." Johnny Appleseed, what years was he there?

  • 11:54:17

    CHEVALIERHe came at the start -- I think it was about 1804. He came from -- he was originally from New York State, and came down through Pennsylvania. And he began collecting seeds from a cider mill in western Pennsylvania. And then crossed over into Ohio and went further south. He lived in Mansfield for a while and across where Columbus is now. And then he ended up in -- he spent a lot of time going all over Ohio. But he ended up focusing on the Black Swamp in the 1830s, towards the end.

  • 11:54:50

    CHEVALIERAnd then by the end of the 1830s, he was making his way into Indiana, Fort Wayne. I think that's where he died in 1845. So he was there for a long time. I'm not sure if he ever got to Cleveland, that was quite far north for him. But he did have a network of -- he took his canoe all over the rivers and streams, so who knows? And it's so interesting that this emailer, you mentioned growing up in an orchard. I've had so many people tell me about their experiences with orchards and growing up near them. In England they call it scrumping for apples, is when you go in an orchard and steal the apples and eat them.

  • 11:55:29

    CHEVALIERAnd also other people telling me about their tree stories. I think I felt like I was on to the right track when I told a couple of friends I was writing a book about trees. And they said, oh -- they immediately told me stories about their childhood trees. And I think we all…

  • 11:55:44

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:55:44

    PAMELA…have that, the trees being touchstones for our lives.

  • 11:55:49

    REHMYou know, at one point in the novel you talk about James feeling that there's a right way to pluck the apple from the tree. Not taking the stem from the branch, because that leaves somehow a scar on the branch.

  • 11:56:15

    CHEVALIEROh, what it is is you actually want to get the stem to come off with the apple.

  • 11:56:18

    REHMYou do want, okay. I got it wrong.

  • 11:56:20

    CHEVALIERBecause if it doesn't come off -- if it comes off, then it exposes a tiny hole where the stem would have been in the apple. And that can cause rot. So that's what Sadie -- when I was reading earlier, she tended -- she said you have to get the stem off, otherwise it causes rot. And so yes, there's a whole technique. And I had to learn this. For part of my research I went to an apple farm and helped them harvest, just to see what it was like and how you pick.

  • 11:56:46

    CHEVALIERAnd there are all kinds of -- you have to be very careful not to bruise them. So even when you've got them all in your bag around -- that's strapped around your waist, your chest, you then -- you have to dump those into a -- into some sort of container, you have to do it so carefully not to bruise anything.

  • 11:57:02

    REHMWell, I want you to know how much I personally enjoyed this book, Tracy. It's just wonderful.

  • 11:57:11

    CHEVALIERThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:12

    REHMTracy Chevalier, her new book is titled, "At the Edge of the Orchard." Thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

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