With retirement in mind, my friend Chris bought a small piece of land in rural Pennsylvania. Part of her last vacation was spent clearing, cleaning and exploring the property, often with the help of a brother who lives in the area. When she returned to Florida, I shared her delight in the discovery that her retirement retreat already has apple trees mature enough to bear fruit.

“It’s still early for apples, but they can shelf-ripen,” she said. Removing small, green fruit from her basket and arranging them on the kitchen table and handling them as though they were valued trophies. “We don’t know what kind they are yet. Probably just wild apples and not anything like the ones you find in grocery stores,” she speculated.

We mustn’t expect too much of them — lest disappointment ensue — her words implied, but the matter-of-fact words failed to dim her glow of excitement and anticipation.

I was reminded of the patient anticipation of the lad, who, many decades ago, cherished a seedling for years until, as the first of all our modern Rome apples, it more than justified his care and determination.

“They could be almost anything,” I said in hushed tones, awed by the potential represented here as Chris began to discuss the practices of area farmers, how some of them went so far as to remove young apples from the trees so those remaining would be larger and more desirable. And who knew what gifts her trees might produce, given even a little TLC?

We spoke gravely of how the apples before us could be used and enjoyed, as well as the future possibilities of her Pennsylvania orchard-in-training, and when she left, she left me with a share of her treasures.

Only later, when I wandered into the kitchen with thoughts of putting together something for supper did I look at the apples on the table and wonder whether my friend’s trees might be descendants of those planted by the legendary John Chapman.

Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, in 1774, Chapman was an apprentice to an orchardist and learned the skills necessary for establishing and caring for apple orchards. These skills included the art of grafting, so necessary for consistent quality in apple crops. Chapman , however, came to view it as a cruel and harmful practice.

Consequently, when he began his career as a nurseryman, he collected seeds from cider presses to use as raw material for the orchards he planted along the frontier. Because of this, he became known as Johnny Appleseed.

Around 1797, Chapman showed up on the Pennsylvania frontier, wandering about with a bag of apple seed slung over his shoulder. Wherever he went, he distributed books to people living in isolated areas, doctored the sick with unguents, poultices and salves he made from wild herbs, and planted apple orchards using his scavenged seed.

He also planted apples around the homes of the settlers, instructing them in the proper care of the trees which, with patience, would give them fruit to go with the fish and game taken from the forest.

From Pennsylvania, he moved west into West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa, and northward as far as Michigan and Wisconsin.

Travelling on foot, horseback and canoe, Johnny rented, leased and sometimes bought tracts of land for his orchards. Conveniently, the law of that day also allowed people to claim land by developing a permanent homestead, and one of the ways to make such a claim was by planting 50 apple trees. As the frontier moved westward, so did he, selling the maturing orchards he had plantedand establishing new ones. When he died in 1845 at the age of 70, he owned more than 1,200 acres.

Now, Johnny Appleseed Day is celebrated in many apple-producing communities, usually either on Sept. 26 or March 11, and there are parks and monuments dedicated to his memory. The most impressive is found in Nova, Ohio, which is home to a 176-year-old apple tree, the last known to be planted by Johnny Appleseed.