There is an apple tree in River John that probably should have perished a long time ago. The limbs hang low, and are practically resting on the ground. In places, the branches are so thin that a breeze could snap them.
Still, the tree is flourishing.
“I don’t understand how it lives,” said Gilles Plante who has to bend down beneath the canopy. “It was broken when it was still young, but it bent that way and just kept growing.”
The tree is at least a century old. It was planted on the property in River John when the buildings next to it were used as a granary and outdoor kitchen.
Today, both buildings are awash in purple paint, the gravel road is filled with cars, and the tree is covered in osyter shell wind chimes and other ornaments.
There’s a woman from New Brunswick holding two wool stars that she made herself. Bending low beneath the branches of this resilient tree, she hangs both stars like deorations on a Christmas tree and starts to read from a book that she’s holding.
“Sometimes she decorated the branches of the trees with her wooly creations, just because I love to create something beautiful every day,” said Kim Munn reading out loud from the children’s book, Polly MacCauley’s Finest Divinest Wooliest Gift of All.
The book’s author, and the owner of this place in River John is standing right beside her.
“Now we get the beginning of the Polly MacCauley tree thanks to Kim,” said Sheree Fitch.
Munn remembers when Fitch visited her school in the early 1980s.
“You were wearing coveralls, and it was so cute,” said Munn who came to River John specifically to leave her own wooly creations on the tree.
Beside the stars there are wind chimes made of oyster shells and, on the ground beside some fallen apples, there are small houses that have been decorated by the kids who come and go.
It’s all part and parcel in what it means to own Mable Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery.
Last year, Mable Murple’s received over 8000 visitors in two months.
The business that Fitch and her husband, Plante, opened in 2017 receives a lot of traffic from tourists on the sunrise trail or cottagers spending their summer months on the north shore. But Fitch says she also gets a lot of folks dropping-in who grew up with her work and can recite from the pages without looking.
“I have people who come in who point to Fagan the Dragon, and the father will recite the entire thing, said Fitch happily inside the shop,” said Fitch during an interview inside her book shop.
Everything inside the actual book shop, including the large illustration of Fagan the Dragon, a character from her children’s book, Sleeping Dragons All Around, has been carefully curated by Fitch.
“She’s very intuitive,” said Linda Little who works in the shop and has a book of her own on display. “She makes sure that when people come in, they’ll be started by the magic.”
Fitch studied children’s literature for seven years in university. As Fitch says, she, “takes (her) nonsense seriously.”
“Will it be lasting? Will it linger and go into the culture of a household. I want those experience and I’m seeing them happen all the time,” said Fitch.
Both Fitch and Plante decided to open the shop after the River John School house closed. Describing the business as a “social enterprise”, Fitch says she wanted the community to have a sense that things were still opening despite the closures that it was experiencing.
“She thought it up, and she built it,” said Little from behind the counter in the shop.
However, Fitch gives a lot of credit for the shop’s success to the work of her husband.
“Can you imagine? I said, ‘I wish we could just open up a little used book store, and he said, well I could probably renovate that old granary’,” said Fitch.
Plante says he has had a lot of help, but in the early days the renovations and the painting were a solo-effort. And there was a lot to do, especially with regard to the out-door kitchen which he turned into Mable Murple’s house.
“After painting it, he came in the house and said ‘honey, I have a problem. I don’t know whether to have a shower or paint the rest of myself purple,” said Fitch.
Plante used to be a camera man for CBC. Originally, he had moved from Quebec to Halifax to improve his English for a highly sought after posting in Moscow.
“And Sheree took a contact at CBC radio. We ended up at a CBC party and we ended up getting married,” recalled Plante.
“I jumped in his car and I never left,” said Fitch laughing.
The word “Dreamery” comes from the 17th century and is defined on the Mable Murple’s website as, “a place where a person dreams or is likely to dream.”
Taking nonsense seriously isn’t something that children find difficult to do. That’s why Fitch encourages people of all ages to take in what children’s literature has to offer, and to enjoy it in a space that facilitates the impractical fancies that might strike them on the grass or under an apple tree.
“There’s a world there that’s maybe a kinder world,” said Fitch. “Even if there’s dragons, the dragons are conquered. If it's not happily ever after, it’s hopefully ever after. And what adult doesn’t need that?”