14. The Evergreens: The Orchard

A photograph of an apple bough. A ripe red and green apple, covered in raindrops, hangs from the bough.

Look west, away from The Evergreens, toward the center of Amherst.  You will have to take an imaginary saw to the trees that now stand between the Evergreens and town. Austin and Susan Dickinson had a clear view to the center of Amherst, looking over a picket fence and the adjoining lot. That property, now Sweetser Park, belonged to their neighbors of the same name. Along the street was a large open pasture; the Sweetsers’ apple orchard spread up the hill.


Before the advent of refrigerated storage and efficient transportation, growing your own fruit was a given. The Dickinsons raised many kinds: cherries, plums, peaches, pears.  But especially, they grew apples. Samuel Fowler Dickinson, Emily’s grandfather who built the Homestead, may have planted some of the apple trees. Once, in sending a gift of apples to her aunt Lucretia, Emily wrote:


The Golden Sweets are from Grandfather’s Tree. (L1049)

 

The orchard is a frequent setting for Emily Dickinson’s poems, along with the birds and insects that inhabit it.  As a New Englander, Dickinson considered herself “Orchard sprung.” And one of her most familiar poems, which begins “Some keep the Sabbath going to church,” suggests that an Orchard is ample substitute for the Dome of a church building.  

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Some keep the Sabbath going to Church -

I keep it, staying at Home -

With a Bobolink for a Chorister -

And an Orchard, for a Dome -


Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice -

I, just wear my Wings -

And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

Our little Sexton - sings.


God preaches, a noted Clergyman -

And the sermon is never long,

So instead of getting to Heaven, at last -

I'm going, all along.


(F236)

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In 2016 the Emily Dickinson Museum restored an orchard to the property, planting a small grove of apple and pear trees in the sunny southern corner near Triangle Street.