The way we were

Let me begin today's post with that most prosaic of subjects: a bowl of apples.

This is not a great sketch. The perspective is askew, the modeling is competent but uninspiring, and the composition itself is staid. I didn't even bother with a background on this one. It's a boring study, nothing more, and I'll be the first to admit it.

I posted it, however, because I was thinking about Roswell when I was drawing it. No, not because I think Roswell is boring, but because the apples reminded me of its history.

Today Roswell is associated with extra terrestrials, but at the turn of the 20th century, it was known for, in addition to ranching, its apple orchards. It was a lusher country than it is now, and apples were big business.

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Apple pickers from the late 19th century. You can see this picture and others at

A devastating freeze from the 1930s and competition from Washington State (indeed, that's where the apples I sketched came from), more or less destroyed the apple industry, but at its heyday in the 1910s, Roswell exported millions of apples. Today, dairy farms and pecan orchards have largely replaced the old orchards.

I learned about this while reading a local history book about Roswell in an effort to get to know my new hometown. I was surprised as anyone when I read this, and started imagining what Roswell was like before I knew it.

It will sound obvious, but in the flurry of everyday life, we  (or at least I) tend to forget that the world existed before we did. There was a time when our parents didn't have us, that our hometowns were around before we lived in them, and that our friends didn't know us. When we die or move on, towns, friends, and family will continue to exist. What is more, our version of a person or place will always be different from someone else's because our perspectives are different. My version of Roswell will not be my neighbor's, just as my mother's version of me will not be the same as my co-workers'.

I first seriously ruminated on the subjectivity of place while I was a student at Lake Forest College. I was lucky enough to work in the library's Archives and Special Collections for my entire four years, and while I was there, I spent a lot of time organizing old photographs. It was wondrously strange to see those images, to jump back and forth between  decades. Some of the buildings in those images no longer stand today, but many of them do, and to see people from other eras milling about them was visually startling.

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Students celebrating Lake Forest Day, 1911. The gothic-looking building in the background is Lois Hall, my old dorm. Photo courtesy of

It made me realize that the campus was not just my beloved home (yes, I will proudly admit that I'm a Forester, and will always consider LFC my alma mater). The college existed before I attended it, and countless other students like me had once called it their home. Moreover, once I graduated, it would no longer be my campus, but would belong to the next generation of students. Indeed, in the five or so years since I graduated, Lake Forest has been home to countless other students, who in turn will create memories and experiences of the campus that will be different from mine. Their campus will not be the same as mine, no more than my campus would be the same as that of the people cavorting in this photograph. The buildings may stand in the same places, but no two people will ever perceive them in quite the same way.

It's an obvious revelation, to be sure, but it's something we seldom contemplate, in my opinion. Nothing we own or know is ever truly ours forever. Rather, we are transient tenants, and everything we associate with a place or person can and will change.

As for those apples, they changed too. I chopped them up for my oatmeal.