So mulberries are sweet spots with darn good shade in just a few years, but they have a couple problems as a food tree: the fruit falls inconveniently all over the ground when ready to eat, and have teensy stems on each and every berry which make strawberry stems look like wimps. Mulberry stems don’t just slide out, they require tugging, and the berries are so small that its not time-practical to clean a lot of them. Even I, with a casual eating attitude, don’t want to just eat the stems—it’d be fiber for a lifetime in one serving, even if they weren’t an unpleasant chew experience. I have at times cleaned enough to throw in pancake batter, and they are wonderful.
Mulberry’s other potential drawback is the method-of-harvesting thing, which after a little research actually has become a high point. If you have ever seen “Under the Tuscan Sun” (one of my personal ‘comfort movies’), you’ve seen the olive-harvest scene, where they lay sheets on the ground and shake the tree, tumbling the ripe-enough olives off the branches. This is exactly the practical and fun way to harvest mulberries, and it makes a good show for the neighbor kids, whom I’m always trying to subtly convert to gardening. I discovered the harvest method by googling “mulberries”. (I also wanted to make sure before eating the berries that this was, indeed, the mulberry I remembered from my distant youth and not some clever imitation that would embellish my final moments on earth with writhing painful gut spasms and foaming at the mouth and stuff. I strongly urge any tasting of unknown things to be presaged by a hell of a lot of checking. Food poisoning is serious business, I can tell you.)
Dad would’ve known with one look at the tree what it was. They were all over our farm. And he grew up as a semi-orphan in several farm households—far distant from his small city home—fostered in exchange for labor. He had plenty of emotional space to fill with wondering about the world around him, and he made excellent observations. Decades after his seedling years, Dad liked to make wine out of anything he could find around the farm in sufficient quantities, including mulberries. His wine was very sweet stuff, but he loved making it for the pleasure of learning about it—and for drinking it. It was very special because it was literally the fruit of his labor, and a personal kind of nourishment, as was nearly everything we consumed on the farm: food on the hoof or from the ground. Americans are awakening to the awareness that our farm-based culture of living off personally-procured food is endangered. Self-sustenance begats gratitude for supplying basic needs, and fast food with no emotional investment encourages obesity. I’m delighted with neighbors who have ducks and chickens in their urban yard—they are in a process of personalizing their food. And learning stuff.
But Dad is no longer around to lend personal experience to the use and fate of my mulberry tree, alas. So the next best thing to his personal experience is my beloved Internet, my personal Library of Alexandria, which has answers or at least opinions and keywords for any question I can pose. I think of Dad when I use it, for matters such as gardening. I think of how so many people, with personally-accrued knowledge like his, have contributed to world-wide personal advice. The internet is a repository of the wisdom of our species. When writing was “the latest” technology, around 6,000 years ago, it was used charily because it was so little understood. To understand it was a privilege of rank and wealth and the luxury of time to learn it. The storied Library of Alexandria was a much earlier attempt to pool all knowledge, back in ( ). As Carl Sagan reverently elaborates in the first episode of the TV series Cosmos, books and written knowledge from all over the known world were aggressively sought and collected by the Library of Alexandria. The collection was vast and esoteric and awesome, and ultimately destroyed by fire.
So I was thinking about Dad, and how he’s no longer my source of hands-on knowledge of things flora. I was thinking about the Library of Alexandria and the incredible collection—not to mention the incredible (incred-bible) lust for gathering all recorded human knowledge which it symbolizes. Unfortunately, both the wonders and the inanities housed in Alexandria’s Library were destroyed, and we will never know them. The sad part is that the collecting of them contributed at least in small part to the destruction of them—they were all in one place and one disaster finished them off. Chances are the individual books, scattered throughout the known world at the time, would never have been unearthed anyway. Still. Sigh.
Then—there’s the Internet. Certainly light-years beyond Alexandria in its stored knowledge (right, Mr. Sagan?). Certainly awe-inspiring. If by some chance the Internet goes down in flames, the chances are good that much of the knowledge on it will be covered and retained, by many dispersed methods. But aside from potential catastrophic destruction of our modern-day unified source, the Internet is a repository of the memory of the human race which I find cosmic, beautiful, and comforting.
Dad is gone, and his wonderful, personal, loving knowledge of the world around him is gone. I can’t call him up and ask him, “Hey, how do I make mulberry wine?” We can’t share the pleasure of reviving and handing over hard-won survival knowledge. But I take a lot of comfort in my fellow humans from this. We all step in to carry on the important stuff. We are all, to some extent, each other’s keeper. We are all the recipients and benefactors of the love and accidents of learning. Alexandria tried, with the technology it had in hand, to take care to preserve knowledge—any knowledge—for the light of learning. Alexandria unfortunately was not built to survive fires and centuries. The Internet has more going for it, although over time its survival will surely be threatened as other technologies are created. And I have no doubt some other forms of preserving knowledge will surface. History says this trait is firmly embedded in humans.
But knowing I can access the personal knowledge of “billions and billions” of minds whenever I want/ need the knowledge is a wonderful thing, an overwhelming thing. People have strived, for millennia, to learn how to survive. We have cared—first through oral stories and then a mere 6,000 years ago by written records—to preserve and share our hard-won testing of knowledge. Our ancestors cared enough to preserve knowledge because they were driven to point the way for their children. They were, if not altruistic, at the least driven to preserve their DNA with their increments of knowledge. For their immediate offspring, the offspring of their neighbors, fellow citizens, and ultimately for their unknown children thousands of years, light-years, distant from them: us.
Carl Sagan posits (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) that we, human beings, are descended from the stars; that unfathomably ancient cosmic dust from exploding suns sifted onto our tiny planet from incredibly vast distances and formed the proteins that began life on our planet. So in a way, from the inception of the universe to the moment I spend here typing on my laptop for an internet audience of my vastly-distanced cousins, serendipitous occurrences have wended their way to the subject of the mulberry tree in my backyard, and a way to utilize its fruits.
Because between an exploding sun and earth, things happened. Because some protein strands were once too stubborn or too lucky to quit. Because people learned to relay information, and preserve it. Because every small thing on the planet is unaccountably and intrinsically precious for what it knows. Because everything we strive to understand every day is important. Because some bird left a seed in my yard where I couldn’t easily destroy it. Because my Dad was curious about the world. Because I am his daughter, and because there are children living in the world who can see my actions.
I can freeze the mulberries with the stems in, and look up how to make wine.