Cidermaster of Rio Oscuro

Harvey Frauenglass, Author University of Utah Press $21.95 (191p) ISBN 978-0-87480-660-1
""Controlling nature is an illusion. We are controlled rather than controlling. And the harder we try to control natural forces, the more serious the consequences."" Frauenglass knows whereof he speaks. A nuclear weapons research editor for 14 years at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, he resigned his position to take up raising apples in the highlands of northern New Mexico. One of his goals was to become a ""cidermaster,"" which he describes in Taoist terms as someone who ""encourages the orchard spirits and the human spirit in the orchard,"" aiming to learn all there is to know about the ""living and growing and dying of the trees,"" as well as about cider-making. Woven into the horticultural lore of apple trees are stories of Frauenglass's own family and the history of his orchard, once the abode of a German missionary parson who wanders ghostlike throughout the text. Especially important is the author's charming and wise daughter, Marni, whose death from cancer is recounted in a series of flashbacks. This meditative, evocative memoir reads as if told by a combination of Thoreau and a Navajo storyteller, or perhaps the ancient Chinese farmer-poet, T'ao Ch'ien, whom the author cites as a personal hero. In a metaphoric event near the end of the book, a Vietnam veteran carves a ""Cave of the Chambers of the Heart"" into a mountainside. The private, healing act takes three years to complete, but it inspires many visitors and symbolizes the way communion with nature can ennoble a soul. Thus saith the cidermaster: ""We go on, blindly, in great ignorance,"" and with great faith in the turning cycle of the seasons. This is a lovely, mystical book about love, life and apples. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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