It’s the mulberry season here in Illinois. Mulberries are the seed fruit that no one notices until they run through a pile or streak of them on the sidewalk. Then you worry about the stain on your shoes. In fact they stain anything with which they come in contact. That means trouble when a bird such as a grackle ingests a few of these berries and flies over your vehicle to leave a mulberry bomb on your hood.
That’s pretty gross. Those seeds and purple juices mixed with bird poop is a substance with which it is no fun to deal. You can hose them off or spray them down with Windex, and still they cling to the paint.
When cycling you must be very careful in approaching and passing through a mulberry zone. Indeed, they seem to fall straight down from the tree. Like angry little purple paratroopers without chutes, they plop on the ground and lie there waiting for something to run them over.
This is an evolutionary strategy, in case you did not know. The sticky fruit serves as a transport vehicle for the many seeds contained in each little mulberry. These get carried away by sticking to the bottom of some creature’s feet or else eaten and later pooped into a new place for a mulberry tree to grow.
And oh, boy do they grow. I am fairly sure that mulberry trees snuck out of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve got booted out. These have a devilish way of showing up in weird spots. They love to grow next to houses, for example. Somehow the seeds come to rest against the foundation and the plant sprouts up in multiple stems. You can cut these off every ten minutes it seems and they keep coming back.
If you don’t cut them back or cut them down, mulberries take perverse pride in growing up over your roof and dumping their stainy, pitty seeds all over your roof. That leaves a permanent dark stain on your shingles. Unsightly at best.
Mulberry trees also take pleasure in dropping their mulberries all over the street. You can rightly imagine a mulberry tree having the same twisted intellect as a thirteen-year-old child with nothing to do on a June day. They perch there by the street tossing mulberries by the dozens. Finally there is an entire cloud of mulberries covering the sidewalk and extending all the way out in the lane of the road. The mulberry tree sits back and laughs, waiting for its prey.
Then along comes a cyclist. The mulberry tree stands quietly, its leaves barely uttering a whisper in the summer breeze. Yet you know it is muttering to the ugly little buckthorn bush next to it. “Here he comes! Here….he…comes! This is gonna be great!”
And before you know it, you’ve run right through the purple cloud of mulberries. Pits and seeds have flown up on your legs and gathered on the soles of your feet.
Or better (worse) yet, you fly through the patch of mulberries on your bike. The mashed berries carry up with a flick of your tires onto your back. From then till eternity, your favorite yellow jersey will bear the mark of the mulberry prank. You are stained by a moment’s inattention. The mulberry tree has left its mark.
Mulberries aren’t all bad of course. Mulberries taste good when they mature. Their flavor falls somewhere between a raspberry and a muskmelon, which is weird. But mulberries are weird. They’re weird trees that have no place in society or in horticulture, it seems. No one actually plants mulberry trees. They are the gypsies of the tree world. They have no real home, yet their fruity goodness sits out there like sinful temptation. They want to seduce you.
I used to eat plenty of mulberries from the lone mulberry tree growing in our backyard in Pennsylvania. They are also an absolute expression of early summer, and as such, best tasted on a calm June morning when the birds are singing and there is a little dew on the grass.
It’s a fact of life that mulberry fruit is just a little naughty by nature. As an undomesticated fruit, they truly feel a bit taboo, like a session of summer masturbation behind the shed when you are a horny summer kid. You take your pleasure and hope you don’t get caught. There’s always a little guilt involved.
We need these moments however. Otherwise the lure of the taboo digs deeper into our souls. Like a tick that sucks our blood, we need to remove that wild bit of hunger that eats at us. Mulberries are the tarsnakes of the wild fruit world.
Because… where is summer going to leave us if we don’t make it stop to join us in our reveries? Is it really already… the end of June? Why haven’t we sat on the hammock? Gone for a run with just a sports bra on, or no shirt at all? Why do we let summer slide past us when it is meant (deservingly) to be treasured? Do we not even recall when the mulberry tree stood shivering in the cold, raw winds of winter? Those green leaves and naughty purple berries could only be imagined. And now we take them for granted. Shame shame.
The Beach Boys sang about the glories of Endless Summer. For those of us without oceans to beckon, we must find our beach in other ways. All across the interior those mulberry streets are calling us to dig our toes into summer. Let the pits fall where they may. Let the fruit juice run down your chest. Smear it on a friend and lick it off. Make wine or mix them with ice cream and make love on the back patio on a moonless night. Run and ride through those mulberry streets and be glad for the opportunity to move freely through warm days without layers of clothing between you and the world. And eat a few mulberries along the way. You won’t regret it.