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In the tradition of great storytellers, Davis continues to approach Off The Path in serial form. He’ll explore this season, called "Off the Plank," in 2 or 3 installments and then combine them into a single podcast episode. Here, you’ll find those individual installments — which we’re calling “Mile Markers.” Enjoy the ride!

Robert Frost: "I'm done with apple picking"

The remnant of an apple tree from Robert Frost's orchard.
Davis Dunavin
The remnant of an apple tree from Robert Frost's orchard.

The first stop is the home of one of New England’s most beloved poets — a stone house, now a museum — in Shaftsbury, Vermont.

WSHU’s Davis Dunavin likes to go ‘Off the Path’ — to interesting and unusual places in the Northeast. This summer, he heads to upper New England to celebrate the places many Northeasterners spend their vacations. The first stop is the home of one of New England’s most beloved poets — a stone house, now a museum — in Shaftsbury, Vermont.

Robert Frost came to this house for a kind of “escape” in 1920. He was an English professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts at the time — even though he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree.

“Frost was an unorthodox teacher," Frost scholar Phil Holland said. "And was paid pretty well for perhaps less work than the other people were doing. Because he was a poet. It was a fraught situation.”

Holland said the poet didn’t get along with everyone at Amherst. He felt alienated from academia.

“And he pressed the eject button because he was getting too caught up. And it was not his vocation to be caught up like that. He wanted to write poems. So here was a farm, he called it a strategic retreat, a stronghold even, he used military metaphors almost. And what better one than this stone house?”

Back then, lots of poets supported themselves with more mainstream careers. T. S. Eliot was a banker. William Carlos Williams: a medical doctor. And Robert Frost, he was a farmer. Or an attempted farmer. Actually, his doctor suggested it.

“He was depressed and physically downtrodden," Holland said. "Maybe his lungs were never very good. He was a suffering man. And well, it was the farming cure that was prescribed to him.”

The first thing that struck him about the place in Vermont — how good the apples were. It reminded him of his first attempt at farming, with his wife and children in New Hampshire.

“You know, Frost had had wonderful memories of growing fruit and fruit trees at his farm and dairy with his family," said Erin McKinney, the director of the Robert Frost Stone House. The house and grounds are now part of a small museum owned by nearby Bennington College.

“And so I love the idea of him coming here for the apples. … This was apple country here. There was an existing old orchard on the property that he fell in love with … And his son, Carol, was very interested in farming and growing apples.”

The apples even influenced his poetry.

“Frost would often prune trees as a way to work through ideas. And I love that sort of physical manifestation of editing actually, and that he would often before a lecture, he would go out and prune apple trees.”

McKinney leads me outside to see all that’s left of Frost’s beloved orchard.

“This is the last apple tree that is on the Frost House museum property," she said.

Or the remains of it — not much more than a stump.

“This came down in a storm years ago. And so, right now, it marks the beginning of a poetry trail that we installed a couple of years ago on the grounds.”

It’s a path through the woods marked with quotes from Frost’s most woodsy poetry. And at the end, there’s a freshly planted orchard.

“And it has trees that were grafted from original frost trees. So that tree I was telling you about the last tree on the museum property. They took cuttings from that tree, grafted them onto young apple trees. And so those are sort of descendants.”

Robert Frost became restless at the stone house. Yet he kept coming back — and wrote more poems — including one of his most beloved.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.