When we moved to the farm, it was known as the "Patterson Place" after the man who owned it some 70 years ago. Yet on our trips to the feed store, the clerk still heads his delivery sheet, "the old Hurst Place," after the first settler on this road, when an Indian trail crossed his acres.
Hearing these names helped us to settle in to our new home, to feel rooted. Later, in the toolshed, we found the little, black farm diaries that Mr. Hurst kept.
In them, we read that he set out the apple orchard at the age of 20, the year he married and built the house we now live in. He wrote that he was trying to plant varieties of apples with staggered harvest dates, so that some would ripen in July and others right on through winter.
Some years he mentioned wind damage to the apples and once a hailstorm, but he only rarely talked about insects affecting his orchard. On one occasion, however, he wrote about painting trees with "tobacco tea" because of "plant lice" (aphids?), and once he wrote that he was wrapping bandages around them with a mix of tar and oil to catch cankerworms.
A bit puzzled about the lack of insect mentions, my husband, George, called the local extension agent and asked why. He was told that the old trees didn't bear the sweet apples we grow now, that they were tart and puckered your mouth, and that insects don't like tannin.
We added to our apple lore when we cleaned out the little room next to the kitchen, which in the past was probably called the buttery. On a shelf, we found a pile of old almanacs dating from 1864.
For quite awhile afterward, we forgot the TV each evening and read the almanacs instead. They told us that moon glow creates land tides as well as ocean tides, that leafy and fruiting crops should be planted early in the waxing moon phase, that root crops should be planted the first week of the waning moon, and that nothing should be planted on days of the full moon.
As we follow Mr. Hurst and Mr. Patterson, stepping in the hollow of their footsteps down the wooden cellar stairs, we feel as though we are a part of their heritage. We are only transient caretakers for this winding creek, these quiet woods, and these wide fields.