While running this morning, I passed a long hedge and noticed a violent disturbance in the leaves. Then I heard fluttering overhead. To the west, an ominous shadow of a flying bird on the pavement followed mine. I ran and ran and it cawed and cawed, and the bird shadow stayed exactly five feet behind my fleeing shadow. My eyes widened as I anticipated that horrible moment when the shadow would gradually grow bigger and bigger until it finally merged with mine, and I’d see nothing but crimson clouds from a bloody eye-pecking orgy that would put a damper on running ever again, not to mention staining my shirt so thoroughly that I’d have to resort to presoaking with Tide detergent on laundry day.
At the very least, I anticipated that the bird might crap on my head out of spite and/or entertainment and/or target practice. It didn’t, but now that I’m out of danger, the thought of a tiny poo shadow falling from the bird shadow and landing on the head of my running shadow makes me giggle uncontrollably. Hee hee. But nothing happened. The bird left, perhaps assured that I wasn’t trying to eat its chicks or its food, and my head and shoulders remained poop free. That’s when I noticed squashed black splotches on the ground under the trees.
Mulberry season has begun.
You rarely see this non-berry berry for sale (it’s actually a group of fruits and not technically a berry) because they’re absurdly delicate and perishable. Not that the price for local berries would likely be worth it anyway. I’ve heard that some varieties are better than others. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those tastier varieties, good for you. But the mulberries I’ve sampled here so far don’t have the distinct flavor profile of your raspberries or blackberries. They have no fun tartness to counter the mild sweetness. Even the sexy Pyramus and Thisbe love tragedy and the link to China’s great silk trade can’t delude you into thinking that these mulberries taste great unless you’re susceptible to romance and suggestion. The mulberry’s importance to me lies in its price: nothing. You don’t pass up free fruit.
At home I hauled out the twelve-foot ladder and dragged it into the garden under our neighbor’s mulberry tree that overhangs our yard. I picked a handful of mulberries before giving up and shaking the branches to let the ripest ones fall, poking the more reticent berries. This seemed like a good idea until I got back on the ground and realized that the ground is covered with . . . what’s the word . . . dirt. I plucked the black and purple berries out of the mud, cold-heartedly stealing the fruit from the angry chipmunks who chittered about revenge from a safe distance. I lovingly rinsed the berries in a gentle spray of water and popped the darkest one in my mouth.
Now, I don’t know if it’s because of the recent rains, the hot spring, or the irregular orbits of Saturn’s moons, but it tasted like nothing. Nothing laced with a hint of plant. I tried another one. Also nothing. Imagine eating an under-ripe seedless raspberry with no tartness. There wasn’t even a trace of sweetness that could be enhanced with sugar or baking. With a sigh, I tossed all my labor into the trash.
I sought comfort in the farmer’s market where I bought a quart of bright little local strawberries (also not technically a berry) that turned out to be housing the biggest, hairiest, deadest spider I’ve ever seen in produce. After one shriek, two frantic swipes with a fork, and three extremely thorough rinses, I sat down to a bowl of strawberries that still held onto the living tangy sweetness of the sun. It’s at moments like these when I forgive the stinky sweat, perpetual leg-shaving, and slimy sunblock of hot weather.
The birds and the chipmunks can have the mulberries. I’ll chow down on my two-dollar harvest of cultivated fruit, one of the great benefits of being human. The animals don’t know what they’re missing. Then again, I’m going for another run tomorrow. If those chipmunks are smarter than I think they are, I might look down at the pavement to find tiny little shadows trailing mine. One chipmunk can’t do much, but dozens? Hundreds? The blood! The carnage!
Oh that reminds me, I’m almost out of Tide.