Since it’s apple season, I thought it’d be fun to offer some interesting facts about apples and Kazakhstan. For instance, did you know botanists believe apples first evolved in Kazakhstan in the Tien Shan mountains? Today, huge forests of apple trees stretch on for miles there. The trees, over the course of millennia, have cross pollinated like crazy, in turn bringing forth thousands of varieties. Apples range in color from yellow to green to russet to red. In size they vary from as small as acorns to as large as baseballs. They vary in taste too, from inedibly bitter to grocery-store sweet.
Inspired by the Search for a Cure
In my novel, Harvesting the Sky, a special apple plays a key role. Horticulture professor Andre Damazy discovers a rare medicinal apple that can boost the immune system within a day. His personal goal is to bring back the apples to heal his mother who suffered a stroke. His larger goal is to grow more trees so he can bring its medicinal properties to the elderly and ill. But a threatening stranger stalks and vandalizes Andre’s work, hell bent on stopping him from succeeding. Why he does this is the overarching question of the story.
Years ago, I grew fascinated by the simple apple’s complex start in Kazakhstan. Here are some interesting facts I discovered.
1. Botanists estimate apples in Kazakhstan have been evolving for 4.5 million years.
2. The Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov catalogued Kazakhstan’s apple forests officially in 1929. Those writings appear in his book, The Five Continents.
3. Scientists believe the genus and species of Malus sieversii is the oldest species of apple.
4. Unusual flavors of Kazakh apples include hazelnut, honey, berry, and licorice.
5. The oldest apple trees in the Kazakh forests are 350-years-old.
6. Development during the Soviet Era destroyed 70-80% of the forests surrounding the city of Almaty.
7. The capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, means “place of apples.”
Because the forests of Kazakhstan are so rich with cross-pollination, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a white apple with medicinal healing power could emerge. So even though people refer to my apple as “magical,” I actually think of it as “speculative.” Regardless, what that new addition to botanical science launches is a whole basket of trouble for Andre. While nurturing his delicate saplings with care, he must passionately battle dark forces to bring his special apples to the world.
I’m pleased to share a sneak peek of my piece, “The Scent of a Daphne,” which will appear in the anthology Rooted: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction. It’s not really a story about a daphne but it is a story with a daphne in it. It shares a snippet of my time in horticulture school when my husband was undergoing cancer treatment and I was trying to study plants. Mostly, it’s about the unexpected, precious gift I received during that time.
“The Scent of a Daphne”
“It was early September, my second semester of horticulture school, and class was about to begin. I stood outside the door on the narrow sidewalk that ran along the building. The day was warm and the door propped open with a wedge. Flies buzzed in and out. Students chatted and shuffled through notebooks while friends hugged at seeing each other again. I hadn’t made any friends yet, but that didn’t bother me. I had other things on my mind. Like the situation I had to explain to Tim, my professor.
He was an outdoorsy 50-something with wavy gray hair dressed in jeans, boots, and a canvas jacket. “What’s up?” he asked.
It was actually what was down. Down in my life. As in down and out, or beaten down, or in a downward spiral. My husband, Ethan, had just had an operation, not to remove an organ or clean out dangerous tissue or repair a ligament. The surgeon had installed a port in his chest, a small flat disc with a little tube connected to his artery so chemotherapy drugs could be injected into his bloodstream. He was about to be poked with a lot of needles a lot of the time and surgically inserting a port was easier on his body than poking the same veins again and again.”
Thank you for reading. There are so many amazing pieces in Rooted. When our editor sent me the galleys, I fell in love with the collection right off the bat. It’s now available at Amazon and through the publisher, Outpost19.