Geography is everything.

Sometimes “right place, right time” is really just “right place.” Having spoken to growers and orchardists in a number of locations over the last few weeks, it’s clear that geography played a huge role in the severity of Hurricane Irene’s impact. Some operations were wiped out; others luckily remained unscathed.

This last weekend, on a gloriously sunny, beautiful day, I headed across the border between Vermont and Quebec to visit a nearby orchard to shoot a few photos, pick a few apples and chat with the orchardist.

The family operation, Heath Orchards near Stanstead, is a popular pick-your-own spot for residents throughout southern Quebec and northern Vermont. The 16-acre farm has been in operation for over 200 years, and proprietors Lynn Heath and Chris Rawlings offer visitors a wide range of early heritage varieties, summer favorites, fall keepers and rare specialty apples, as well as cider, local honey, maple products and pottery.

Almost all the orchard’s trees sit within a sheltered valley, which not only provides a good temperate climate for the apples but also provides some much-needed protection from severe weather. Rarely has that been a bigger benefit than this year, especially during Hurricane Irene, which rolled up along the East Coast and through western New England, New York and Quebec, leaving a wake of destruction to growers of all types.

When I asked Rawlings how the orchard fared during the severe storm, his relief was abundantly clear. He described the storm’s passing by pointing to a high ridge above the orchard’s southeast edge and telling me, “See that ridge and the big trees up there? They were swaying and bending over [gesturing wildly]. Our apple trees? Just a little [indicating with his hands just the slightest movement].” He made it clear that the geography played its part in diverting the worst of the weather around their trees; other growers in his area did not fare so well, according to Rawlings.

He said that the additional rain was giving them some issues with scab, but because of the orientation of the valley, they had sufficient air movement and that the damage wasn’t as severe as it could have been. A walk around sections of the orchard bore that out, as the crop looks solid throughout the varieties. The parking lot was busy with families come to walk the orchard’s rolling hills and to collect their buckets of apples for the year.

In this case, the lay of the land worked in everyone’s favor.

Bob M. Montgomery