There wasn't intent to have the first two pieces be so botanically themed, but then again the topic of conversation is not always up to these fingers nor this mind. In fact, half another column was already penned when this day lined up and flowed out story top to dash.
By day, the job requirements are for technical support. Regardless of the specifics, this age then requires my buttocks, glued to a chair and eyes affixed to a screen far more on than off. That being said, it goes without saying that a connection to that whirled why'd spider is of upmost import.
There are days, due to familial parlays, that this seat of paste moves posthaste to other locations. In these instances there is generally a node of happiness in the air and the computer relinks to its friends and the bytes travel their necessaries.
We have our standard locales - ones that have offerings without passwords and these oases are the quenching of solving a number of logistical burrs. However, this day, that standby and sturdy was broken and so asking questions of the people around (rather than GPS typing) the library was spied a ten minute walk - right then right again then on the left.
Yet, not long after the first right (cutting through a back lot rather than clear sailing a sidewalk at streetside), a path leading from one parking lot to another, the wind gushed and with a gratuitous hush, the limbs swayed and brought to eye level...berries!
Now, at first glance, one would see blackberries. Good, rich, blackberries. But, myself, not certain of the species, and certainly not wanting to mistakenly poison anybody (I know the limits of my amateur kingdom class phylum), the modern technological trivia decider (also known as an iPhone) came forth from back pocket and put to test my search-engine-fu.
Suffice to say the answer was immediately clear - as this was no bramble nor bush - but a 60 foot tall tree, and yes the berries to touch did stain the skin. These were, as the title of the piece suggests, mulberries.
So, with no container at stretch, the hands begin to pick whatever was easy to reach. Within a few moments, the left is full and the cupped right provides a tick more capacity of the digital boat. It is time to return these tasty treats to the family.
Eye light up for berries - more exotic than the usual apple, pear, orange, banana fare that we get. Grapes when they are on sale. On rare occasion a pineapple or a mango when they've reached the day-old rack at the local Shop-Rite. But berries...those of the four ninety nine for a container the size of the median family's ever shrinking wallet...hardly.
The little man takes in each hand and roars his approval. Kids and berries - too cute, too satisfying. The day job beckons and the tree, while not forgotten, shifts to the side of the playing field and waits, knowing that once the mind is set free from the trappings of salary, the feet will get a-motoring (now with containers which might be filled) back to our harvest.
An hour (maybe two?) later, off-to-walk these boots go, back across the concrete, turn right at the brick, avoid the twisted steel of forgotten gates and look up. Climb rocks and stretch, pull branches down, hold the bucket beneath and let them fall, gently, into the bin.
But a curiosity occurs throughout this time - thirty minutes maybe - and as this is a path that brings all sorts of travelers, there is company in their fleeting feet.
A woman walks past with buds in ears, and never skips a beat even though there's this man dangling from a branch.
A man in an orange sweatshirt comes from the other direction and even though the picking is occurring directly in his way, and on the path, he walks around without breaking stare from stride rite.
A car pulls up and parks maybe ten feet away. Two people emerge, and pause for a moment. "Mulberry?" the offer comes. No response and they walk off into the corner store.
Is it just this age in which eye contact is wary and connecting is turned off by default? But wouldn't at least seeing somebody picking something from a tree, get some stimulus response?
Two more people walk past, to which the same offer, hand outstretched, holding berries, is made, and each walk past as if some perception filter has crossed their eyes and dotted their teas and there is no tree, there is no fruit, no labor of the field of years and years to be had. Did any of them, that night, on their local grocery tour, pick up a pint of blackbluestrawelderberries and pause?
So, with more than children could eat, cue experiment number one. Once back to the play place, with pied piper toddlering in tow, to each adult we go offering, "Mulberry?"
Three look at me as if there are three heads upon my shoulders.
Two gently decline.
One says no, but then reconsiders. Asks, "Like the ones in the store?" Affirmed, she agrees to take one and inquires as to the location of the tree. When asked if she's certain she doesn't want a second - another of the hundreds in the bin - she shakes her head no.
One says, "I love berries, but not from here."
Not from here?
One can imagine, one hundred years ago, this strip mall and that, a field, forested, trees, maybe a farm. Eventually parceled off and stone walls built up to keep out whomever and what-have-you but in this one place rather than clear cutting, a line of trees remained as a barrier. And in the lineup of oak and maple, a mulberry tree happened to stand. Was it a child who planted it? A bird who had stolen a snack from a farmer's table and dropped seed in just the right place, protected and watched over, to survive?
Why not from here?
Or, is it something different - something about the tree, that there is food, free, for all the taking...yet nobody seems to be partaking. It seems, nearly impossible, when trees are often but barriers to so-called perfect lawns, that they are generous of fruit and thus food. Maybe, it is not unlike the pretty packaging of the pork chop which leads us to forget that meat, is not an object unto itself, but the life and thus death of a sentient creature.
If not here, then where?
Here, where there isn't a pesticide to be seen. Here, where the source of the spring has not been modified, gentrified, cauterized or glorified. Here, where this is as close to original as one might get, while walking through the concrete and steel jungles of East South Anytown USA.
Is anywhere else so different?
They say mulberries are sweeter than blackberries. That mulberries don't have the zing that a blackberry can have. For this mouth, there's no experience with which to compare as they were all given away, the rest of the bunch (at least half) to our upstairs neighbors.
Sometimes, for me, the sweetness is in doing the work, and doing so without need of tangible reward (although maybe this column is tangible enough).
Sometimes, seeing that smile on the face of another is enough.
Sometimes, one wonders, why it is not enough all the time.