On the future of family apple farming with Andy Mack of Mack’s Apples, a New Hampshire heritage business since 1732.
It seems the life of an apple tree in an orchard means living under constant stress from humans. Apple trees are prevented from their natural inclination, which really is to manspread, grow in all directions toward the sun, and produce smaller, less edible fruit that is open to entertaining diseases like apple scab, bitter rot, and bitter pit. Apple trees need to be cajoled, pinned, bound, twisted, to produce revenue to sustain a business and satisfy customers. If an apple grower stresses an apple tree properly through chemically thinning, the weaker fruit in the next generation will drop off, letting the king blossom thrive. This king bloom will yield the biggest apple of the group. The apple has long been burdened with symbolic meaning and opinions about the way a person or a nation should conduct itself—in the Bible; in Thoreau’s 1862 Atlantic Monthly essay, “Wild Apples”; in mythology, Mediterranean or Johnny Appleseed; in cliché like “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”; and as a bluish icon on laptops. An apple tree is decorated with symbols and morals, not just red fruit, making it as overdetermined as a Christmas tree.
Anyone else caught driving their vehicle inside Valley Cemetery, established 1793 in Londonderry, New Hampshire, excepting municipality workers, would find themselves in big trouble. We drive roughshod through the cemetery, Andy Mack’s minivan plunging up and down on frost-heaved ground like a sailing vessel on rough seas. A fallen branch and overgrown scrub trees scrape the undercarriage and passenger side, as though Puritanical wilderness was trying for a comeback. He points to the mound of winterized grass over the crypt where a few years ago the groundhogs hosted their Day of the Dead, rummaging a human skull and leaving it squarely on top of the crypt like a cantaloupe rind on a compost heap. Briefly, Andy had deliberated carrying the skull to the town offices but decided to make a call on his flip phone to the town grave diggers and suggest that they fix the situation, pronto.
Like all the cemeteries we tour that afternoon, this one is in proximity to an apple orchard. There’s a good chance Andy’s family donated the land for this graveyard in Londonderry or was otherwise involved in its establishment, as the Macks were for the town’s Presbyterian church, the town’s first elementary school, and the high school. Andy Mack is the 84-year-old owner of Mack’s Apples, a heritage business his family has run for eight generations, since 1732, with employees, the Searles and Crosses, also in it for the long haul, working at Mack’s Apples for two or three generations. A visit to Mack’s Apples is a must-have public relations opportunity for attracting votes from this first-in-the-nation state in presidential politics. Kamala Harris’s September 2019 Instagram post is standard fare for how politicians leverage the business: “Picking out apples in New Hampshire at Mack’s Apple Stand. The Mack Family has farmed the land since 1732, making it the oldest single family-run farm in the Granite State.” Yet behind this glossy rendition of tradition is a man conflicted on a Shakespearean level.
Old Hill Graveyard, our next cemetery stop, comes with a higher proportion of those tooth worn, lichen-covered markers and carved skulls with wings at cheekbone level expected of a Halloween graveyard. It’s a graveyar d of settlers, whereas Valley Cemetery is a depository of early civic leaders. By mid-afternoon, although he’s escorted me to several cemeteries, Andy Mack hasn’t shown me the graves of close family members—his wife who predeceased him 40 years ago from complications from diabetes, or his infant daughter, his parents or his cousin who favored bright lipstick and was a descendant of Colonel Pillsbury, a veteran of the Battle of Antietam.
How do families like the Macks, with a publicly known lineage of 287 years, manage expectations, their own and outsiders’, that they’ll continue?
At Old Hill Graveyard, Andy shows me the first grave of a relative, John Mack, the ancestor who came with wife Isabella from Ireland in 1732 and Who Left This Life in 1753. Andy once stretched out on John Mack’s grave and found the length between head and footstone an exact match to his body size. Andy is a fairly small man, probably 150 pounds and five-foot-eight when not bent over from back surgery. He favors lined windbreakers and baseball caps and looks like a widowed grandfather on a family outing to the lake, except for the collarless linen shirt he dons for photo ops with presidential candidates, a soul patch, and an enigmatic tattoo on his left calf. John Mack is the only Mack in a crowd of other Scots-Irish, including McCleary, Wallace, Boyd, Thompson, and Campbells. The Scots-Irish first arrived in Boston in 1717. After being rebuffed by the Puritans, the Scots-Irish settled in Nutfield (Londonderry’s maiden name) where they planted the first potato in North America, according to the New England Historical Society, and successfully fended off a land grab from neighboring Haverhill, Massachusetts. Where are the Pinkertons, Leaches, Pillsburys, and Thorntons now, other than names on the sides of buildings? Henry David Thoreau asked, “Who is most dead, a hero by whose monument you stand, or his descendants of whom you have never heard?” Until recently, it’s the Mack family and their farm that’s lasted in town.
After an afternoon of graveyard tours, I sit with Andy Mack in his minivan. Instead of passenger seats, a homemade billboard about climate crisis fills the back. Several half-eaten apples of the Johnagold variety, a Whiffle-ball sized apple sold as a dessert fruit, stand on the dashboard, one nibbled core in the cup holder. Andy crushes my business card and sticks it into a homemade wooden holder, possibly for a cellphone. Business is robust at Mack’s Apples even late on a weekend late in the year. The combination of New Hampshire and Massachusetts license plates in the parking lot is refreshed every minute like a busy arrival-departure board. We sit in silence as he peers over the steering wheel at the family farmhouse. It’s a structure that gives the impression of staring back coldly, without cordiality, painted all-white and lacking adornment of shutters or porch decorations. He needs to knock on that front door soon and have difficult conversations with his oldest son, also named Andrew, who is in line to buy the farm business. Pastor Karla Dias, minister of the Presbyterian church, the oldest of its denomination in the Northeast, approaches Andy to hold-shake his hand through the driver’s side window. She thanks Andy for hosting recent visitors from Londonderry, Ireland, at the church, adding, “God put me in this church to be the first female minister.” The vote to build the Presbyterian church was held in the Mack kitchen in that farmhouse in 1837.
From the parking lot, the wizened remnants of an apple tree are visible, a Gravenstein, from the original farm. The ancient Gravenstein is propped by a board. All but one attempt to graft the tree onto a new generation has failed. The only surviving part of the 18th century tree is an index finger-sized twig on a nondescript host sapling. Normally, the success rate on tree grafts is 100 percent. Andy Mack’s longtime general manager Mike Cross doesn’t have high hopes for the viability of the graft. It’s possibly the end of the line. He says that “apple trees, if they think they’re on their way out, put up a big crop, and that usually kills them. They spend all their energy.” The Gravenstein generated a bumper crop two years ago, a final fireworks display of productivity, then nothing. After two and a half centuries of Andrews, Johns, and Wallaces, Andy Mack has produced three grown sons, only one of whom lives in the area, a younger son who resided for long stretches in India and Japan, a middle son who seems to have also fallen far from the tree, and between them, two grandchildren, and the future of the apple farm is not at all clear. Until recently, Mack’s Apples’ competitor for longevity had been Tuttle’s Red Barn, in Dover, New Hampshire, begun in 1632 with a land grant from Charles II of England and continued through 11 generations. In 2013 William Penn Tuttle III and his sister Lucy sold the business, citing exhaustion and age, compounded by a lack of interest in the younger Tuttle generation. How do families like the Macks, with a publicly known lineage of 287 years, manage expectations, their own and outsiders’, that they’ll continue? What’s it like growing up knowing that either you or a sibling will be picked to remain in place, committed to the family profession, living in the family’s ancestral home?
After an aborted attempt to transfer Mack’s Apples from father to son in 2015, Andy Mack, Jr. is interviewed in a local paper saying, “It’s one of the toughest things about this business—the fact that you have that long history and you don’t really want to be the person that breaks it.” While the rest of us sign mortgage papers in the company of the loan officer of the local bank, the Macks bought a portion of their property from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. A laminated copy of the original deed hangs lopsidedly from a nail over the seconds bins in the shop: Matthew Thornton to John Mack, February 3, 1779, For and in consideration of the sum of five shillings.
Andy Mack lives in a studio apartment in the Bunkhouse, a weathered and shingled three-story cross between a ski chalet and a barn, situated on a slight slope a few yards behind the main store and a minute’s walk to the farmhouse. I would have guessed that Andy had lived a few months in the Bunkhouse; the answer is 30 years. He woke up one morning and realized he couldn’t hear the songbirds, just traffic from busy Mammoth Road, and so he vacated the family farmhouse. Andy Mack lives more like a 19-year-old bachelor in his parents’ barn than a man at the head of a million-dollar business.
Here’s what you won’t find in Andy Mack’s living quarters: a coffee table or dresser, matching dishware or cutlery, clothes hangers, photographs of his grandchildren, typical travel souvenirs, a pet, Tupperware, a Mon-Tues-Wed-Thurs-Fri-Sat-Sun pill dispenser, shoehorns, certainly no dry cleaning bags, houseplants, wine rack, golf clubs, walk-in closets, washer and dryer, hand sanitizer (even now), cuff links, probably no dishwasher, dining room table, vacuum cleaner, golf clubs, hair dryer, tea samplers or decaf coffee, floor rugs or throw pillows, coasters, anything cute, teeth-whitening toothpaste, scented candles, a cookbook, a smart home device, guest towels, religious iconography, air conditioning, hand lotion, a bread basket, bookends, table lamps.
His grandfather walked across the same floor, so to Andy it’s “soul to soul and sole to sole” and he can “reach his grandfather, picture the soul part of the man” through the floor boards.
It would require about an hour’s brisk effort to pack his belongings and move Andy out, and the boxed possessions, like remainders from a yard sale, would be declined as a donation at Goodwill. His furniture consists of a drafting table made from particle board, the type of shelving you might expect in a garage, and a lawn and desk chair. On a window ledge over the bed, several cereal bowls with spoons, suggesting he eats meals in bed, with a view of the orchard and bird feeders. A high proportion of bossy blue jays thack sunflower seeds like someone knocking on the thin door.
Items poke out from the sleeping bag, including a belt, a button-down shirt, and a jumbo-sized bag of Doritos. Like a teenager told by his mother to pick up his room, while I’m in the bathroom, he puts the shirt on over his T-shirt and tidies the bed. The wood floors are painted a Granny Smith green. His grandfather walked across the same floor, so to Andy it’s “soul to soul and sole to sole” and he can “reach his grandfather, picture the soul part of the man” through the floor boards. Four people are on display: a photo of President Obama in a setup reminiscent of a Naples street altar, another of his second son’s wife, a first responder at the World Trade Tower site on 9/11 holding a walkie-talkie, a Norman Rockwell print of parade attendees that includes Andy’s uncle, and a time-faded photograph of Andy windsurfing in the early 1990s.
In his 1862 essay, “Wild Apples,” Thoreau heaped projections and personifications on apples to instruct his fellow 19th-century citizens how to live: to not be like the cultivated, grafted apple tree, which only leads to a mushy character. Simply by being brought indoors, a wild apple and a man lose their natural vitality. Thoreau was an anti-orchard man: he preferred that cultivated trees wander off into the wilderness to join oaks, pines, and maples and be pruned by beasts, not humans. During his lifetime, Andy has been responsible for the production of at least two million bushels of orchard apples, at 120 apples per bushel, so around 240 million apples. In this regard, Andy Mack is the antithesis of Thoreau, though in several others, he’d be Thoreau’s soul mate. Andy would be comfortable living in a yurt or a treehouse. He has taken measures to untangle himself from the bindings of a heritage family business—one might even go so far to say that he liberated himself from conventional family life and marriage—disappearing mid-life for long stretches to the Mediterranean and Caribbean, his happiest times teaching windsurfing and sleeping on beaches or in his van far away from New Hampshire. His souvenirs consist mostly of rocks from various locations.
Like Thoreau, Andy has opinions about how his fellow citizens should live; he is a firm believer in self-expression and if slightly younger would have been a polemical user of Twitter. Andy Mack’s signs are as well-known as his orchards, crackpot to some, bravely outspoken to others in this predominantly Republican town. These billboards are larger versions of the Post-It notes that cover his walls, the scribbles on his floor, the graffiti on his furniture. He started making signs to sell apples to residents in 1951 or 1952 when Mack’s had more fruit than could be put into storage for wholesale. His father had posted a shoe box-sized sign on the side of the barn which Andy thought would be unreadable, so he went bigger.
Nowadays, Andy’s four- by eight-foot signs are along the curb in front of the shop, at the edge of the pick-your-own, occasionally facing the Matthew Thornton Elementary School or adjacent to the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches: We Fiddle The World Burns. It’s Time It’s Time It’s Time. Doubt Science? To Heck with the Planet. 9 Years Old? 11 Years Old? / A Good Time / To Start Thinking: / Who Will You Want / To Run Your Country?Questions? Disagree? Let’s Talk Andy Mack, SR. Politics doesn’t always mix well with the apple business. Drakew27 on Instagram: “Get your grubby, sticky socialist hands off my fruit.”
A short list of politicians to stump speech at Mack’s Apples during the last eight presidential elections include the Bushes, Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, George Bush, the Obamas (clocking in three visits), and this campaign, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders. When John Edwards wanted a family photo by the pond, the make-up crew took so long fixing Edwards’s notorious postiche that Andy Mack warned Edwards that the dusk light was becoming too dim for photographs. Pete Buttigieg’s handlers declined a visit because the open-air apple market is underheated. There’s a bit of Snow White and the Evil Queen handing her a poisoned apple in the images of Kamala Harris’s visit to the orchard. Harris dressed in a slate grey suit and Keds and perches on a stool while Andy Mack peers at her as she takes a bite of a Macoun. Online, President Obama and Andy can be found in a tête-à- tête in the orchards, both men dressed in white shirts and pressed khakis.
Andy Mack left the business for long stretches at a time, starting in 1989. Andy’s mother had died in 1964 by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Andy at her side, nothing he could do as she bled out in the farm house. His newborn daughter, Jennifer, was born premature with a heart defect and after seven weeks of life died in 1967. His wife Sandy passed away at age 45 in 1980 during surgery for a pacemaker. When he made his first departure, business was not the best, and Andy was recognizing that he was sensitive to cold and lack of light of New England winters. “Okay, Mack,” he told himself, “You’ve got to go where it’s warm.” Andy says, “If I hadn’t had the gumption to leave, I’d be dead or better still…” and trails off. He explains, “I had to go off by myself.”
Far from New Hampshire, he crafted a new identity as an apple farmer who taught windsurfing to the beautiful young people, a millionaire businessman who slept in his van on beaches. He got a job in Aruba where he taught for a year until local officials noticed that they had an illegal immigrant working and told him to leave “or we’ll send you to an island of our choice.” Andy decided to tour the Caribbean, ending up in Barbados, where he found a job managing a hotel’s sailing area and making buoys out of tires filled with concrete. His longest time completely away from the farm was seven months. Barbados was followed by the Curaçao Islands, Maui, the Columbia River Gorge, and Tarifa, on the southern tip of Spain. He followed his passions, windsurfing and biking; he behaved like a much younger man. He focused on athletic accomplishment like an ancient Greek. In his mid-50s, Andy became a hardcore athlete. He took up serious biking, ascending the Alpe de Huez in the French high Alps, the route of the Tour de France, building up strength to the point where he was able to make five climbs in nine days, a total of 90 to 100 climbs in other places, and a dozen climbs in the Canazei in the Dolomites. He was 72 years old: “Achieving some level of skill was important to me. It’s easy to stay healthy in your 70s. I was at my peak. I was doing more than I had in my 60s, and I was still gaining strength, as far as I was concerned, and I went on to windsurf for quite a few more years.”
Andy started leaving the business at age 52, not an outrageous age for a successful business man, but departures from the legacy business are noted. He’d been responsible for the farm since graduating from the University of New Hampshire. “It wasn’t until my junior year that my mother said, ‘Your father would really like it if you came back home to the farm.’” Andy’s older brother Wallace had absconded with his motorcycle, parked outside their fraternity, in the 1950s. His brother left a note and drove off to pursue an engineering opportunity outside the state. Andy had been offered a job by the university department head with connections with the board of the United Fruit Company. The job would have sent him to Central America, an early chance to depart that Andy decided to forfeit. His fiancée was diabetic, and he thought Sandy wouldn’t receive the same medical care overseas. Andy worked for years at the farm, including a stretch alongside his father until his mother’s death in 1965, when “Dad said, ‘I’m out of here.’ He said he wanted to go see how they picked apples in Washington State.”
During the past seven years, so into his 80s, well past traditional retirement age, Andy’s been back on the farm. He stopped traveling seven years ago because of back problems and two knee surgeries. Who exactly will take up the reigns of Mack’s Apples is foggy with the hints, innuendo, and unspoken language of family. Succession between generations is a time of maximum vulnerability for a business. Andy’s three sons haven’t spent their adult lives working side-by-side with their father, learning the ropes. Instead he’s worked with the father and sons of another family, the Crosses, and the father and daughters of the Searles, families that are not Mack’s biologically but are grafted onto the business.
His back-and-forth feuding with his oldest son makes the local newspapers. A series of headlines in local newspapers reads: “Father, Son Part Ways in the Orchard” (January 2012); “Mack’s’ Apples Moves on to the Next Generation” (August 2015); “The Future of Mack’s Apples is Up in the Air” (February 2020). He spends Thanksgiving 2019 with a buddy rather than the son and daughter-in-law who live a few yards up the lane. In February, Andy also announces in the Union Leader that he has “reversed his previous decision to pass the historic orchard to his son Andy Mack, Jr. and is looking for other family members to take the reins.” He’s considering Wallace Mack IV, the son of his older brother, or possibly donating the farm to a university. Andy vents, “My son, he would like to own the farm, but he has not the slightest passion for farming,” and his son responds, “Out of respect for my dad, I’m just not going to comment.”
It can be easier spending time with people who are not family, even without high-stake legacy issues. Over the past four months, I have spent more one-on-one time listening to Andy Mack than I have my whole adult life with my father, and this is happening as my father receives a prognosis of prostate cancer. The last occasion my parents and my brother, his wife, and their children—relatives who live only an hour away in Massachusetts—visited my house in Londonderry was in 2014, and when they did visit, after Sunday lunch, we actually took the kids to Mack’s U-Pick. I try to imagine this failure in my family life broadcasted in newspaper headlines, “Parents Go to NH to Buy Tax-Free Furniture Without Stopping By to See Grandchildren,” “Adult Daughter Has Regrets,” or “Three Thanksgiving Invites in a Row, Declined.”
All of us are crop dusted with other people’s expectations; it’s just part of living with everyone else. People judge, judge, judge—weighing in with their opinions about keeping a business running, maintaining tradition, or lifestyle choices. It’s hard to stay the family patriarch and make unconventional choices, such as acting like a proverbial beach bum or focusing on athletic prowess, especially at an advanced age when most people have given up on physical maintenance. The Mack family is not interested in the hundred pounds of rocks he’s brought back from Spanish beaches or the bell from a temple in India, and they’re not interested in what is central to his person, the core of his life, his experiences traveling outside New Hampshire. Would it have been more or less acceptable if Andy vacationed more conventionally, say, on a Viking Cruise or in a rented villa?
About a mile away from Mack’s Apples, piles of fill and crushed rock, excavation equipment, and toppled apple trees scar the landscape: a dozen symbolic trees are left standing, looking like driftwood or amputated to stumps. Backhoes, graders, dump truck, bulldozer, a Porta Potty, crushed gravel, and pavement because they’ve definitely paved paradise and put up a parking lot. A manmade pond that looks like a giant tarp held down by tires replaces the wetlands taken by the development. Apple processing buildings have been requisitioned and resemble a D.O.T. headquarters, with an ominous sign out front, “Firewood for Sale.”
In 2017, after a decade of debate, the developer Pillsbury Realty began demolishing Woodmont Orchards, one of Londonderry’s four apple orchards, to make way for an after-the-fact New England-style town commons, 2020 style, with Market Basket, TJ Maxx, Sports Authority, a state liquor store, a beer hall, a Hallmark gift shop, with more to come for its 600 planned acres, 24 acres of which Andy Mack sold to them. A headline reads, “Can You Build a Downtown from Scratch? Londonderry is About to Find Out.” Despite its long history as the second-largest settled area in New Hampshire after Portsmouth during the signing of the Constitution, a territory once encompassing neighboring towns including what’s now the city of Manchester, even parts of Massachusetts, Londonderry recognizes that it lacks a core. The town split from Derry in 1827 in a divorce that left Derry with an old-fashioned downtown and Londonderry its rocky soil.
The tendency is to think the town’s identity is linked with apples, but that signature trait may go the way of the Lithia waters Londonderry was famous for in the 19th century.
Everyone these days has an opinion about the demolition of Woodmont Orchards, especially people who have never grown anything more than a patio tomato plant. Among residents, there’s concern that this “mixed-use urban village” will backfire, so that “if the architecture and landscaping fall flat, Woodmont could have all the appeal of living in an outlet mall.” The tendency is to think the town’s identity is linked with apples, but that signature trait may go the way of the Lithia waters Londonderry was famous for in the 19th century. Residents release tension around these changes in their landscape by playing “Londonderry-opoly,” a fundraising event sponsored by the town’s Rotary in which players can buy Mack’s Apples (both its land and business) for $200 and “scoop up some surrounding properties and corner the residential development market.” For April Fools’ Day in 2011, Andy Mack, Jr.’s practical joke meant hosting a two-hour press conference on Twitter announcing the fake news that his family business had been purchased by neighboring Sunnycrest Farm.
People like what the orchards symbolize; it’s apple trees for the sake of having apple trees, but cultivated apple trees are finicky prima donna. It’s not as simple as planting petunia beds around a municipal area: apple trees are not easily made ornamental. They’ll quickly slip into producing the hard, knotty, spotted fruit that Thoreau favored, and without steady pruning, a formerly tame tree will become a spinning branch turbine of new growth. In August 2013, the organization calling itself Save Woodmont Apple Trees, otherwise known as SWAT, held a rally for locals “to say goodbye to 10,000 trees,” seeking to save 609 trees for a new public park. “The attendees will form a ‘group hug’ by holding hands around the apple trees” though “attendees are free to hug any particular apples trees they like.”
Three-hundred acres of Mack’s 400 acres are now protected from development under a conservation easement. People already treat Mack’s Apples as public land, something the Mack family has encouraged. The orchards have become a kind of town park where locals walk their dogs, jog on hiking trails, bring their kids sledding behind the Bunkhouse, and have their engagement photos taken. If Londonderry possessed a town center during the past 40 years, it has been Mack’s Apples. This is partly because of a business choice made by the Macks years ago to move from wholesale to retail. Mack’s also started one of the first pick-your-own operations in the area around 1968. Mack’s interfaces with the community. It’s held a green business showcase, 5-K cross country races, a popular pie baking contest, an annual Democratic BBQ, various arts events, a military appreciation day, a senior citizens’ bake sale, an annual Boy Scouts Christmas tree bonfire, and sponsored the Mack Plaque, a popular athletic competition each fall between the public high school and its rival, Pinkerton Academy.
When they sold 280 acres for nearly $7 million to a Massachusetts-based real estate developer with ties to the DeMoulas family of Market Basket fame, Bob and Steve Lievens, co-owners of Woodmont Orchards, “quietly chose not to actively farm the land” in 2010 and equally quietly slipped away. Of the Lievens’s decision, Andy Mack announced, “They will be missed, not just for the sight of their agriculture, but by their fraternity of fellow farmers.” It would be a different departure altogether if Mack’s Apples left town.
For several weeks, two signs in the orchard stay face-planted into the ground, knocked over by some human or weather force and not returned to an upright position. A sign the dimensions of a king-sized mattress on the outside of the apple shop functions like a Rorschach test. It reads: “Londonderry 2050?: Planet Earth Our Only Home,” with an apple tree in the lower left and tellingly a palm tree bending in the wind on a doormat-sized island in the upper right.
Andy Mack is reversing the sphynx riddle, first walking with a cane from the spinal implant surgery, then stooped, but now straightening. He’s rejuvenating. During our last conversation, Andy elevates both legs on a stool several feet above the floor, like in a yoga pose. The bright foil of another Dorito’s bag is mostly covered by bedding. Evening is happening fast and cold in the window. Another New England winter has commenced, and the father and little boy who’d been sledding during the afternoon—hats with ear muffs, I half expect to see old fashioned Flexible Flyer sleds—have packed it up and headed home. It’s time for Andy to depart again. He’s hoping to leave soon, initially staying in the country with a trip to Florida, but later he’s been invited to a vineyard in France. He’s working out at the local gym to regain strength for windsurfing. Two of his vans still wait for him, parked at an airport in Toulouse, France, and in storage in Maui, and are said to have rotting tires but otherwise are road worthy. A red carry-on sized suitcase has been moved near his bed, his name and address written in large letters on the outside fabric.
“I will probably bug out of here sometime soon,” he says, after his last doctor’s appointment in early February. It’s time for him to depart because, as he says looking out the window at the orchard over his bed with its thin sleeping bag, “I think I’ve been dissolving into a person that I’m not.”
Newspaper sources consulted for this piece include Foster’s Daily Democrat, Union Leader, Derry News, Londonderry News, and the Associated Press.
Alexandria Peary serves as New Hampshire Poet Laureate and is a 2020 recipient of an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship in support of her mindful writing workshops for youth survivors of her state’s opioid crisis. She specializes in mindful writing, the topic of her 2019 TEDx talk, “How Mindfulness Can Transform the Way You Write.” She is the author of seven books. More info can be found about her initiatives at newhampshirepoetlaureate.blogspot.com.
Deborah Schillbach studied photography at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Studio 550, where she became immersed in abstract and street photography. Her influences include the photographers Chris Orwig, Andy Karr, and Michael Wood.
Header photo, apple tree with graveyard in distance, and all other photos by Deborah Schillbach. Photo of Alexandria Peary by Jane Button Photography.