Mulberries on the Hudson River: Trees That Tasted of Home
Give you a reason on compulsion? If reasons were as plentiful as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion, I.
If anything from Nature’s bounty is plentiful where I grew up, it’s blackberries. Whether it’s a copse of trees abutting a shopping mall, creeping shrubs along a narrow jetty on the Gulf, or the purlieus of the woods, Summer sends these shrubs into a mouth-puckering mania. There was nothing remarkable about them growing up, much like the ubiquitous honeysuckle, even if nothing tasted like Summer as much as the blackberry, nothing smelled of it like honeysuckle blossoms at dusk. Like most precious things, I never realized their importance until I left them. When I moved to Brooklyn, fifteen years ago, the city quickly absorbed me and smothered any thought of the blackberry. Rather than the fairy dust smell of honeysuckle in the golden hour, there was the acrid bouquet of the subway platform in Summer. Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse. In this case, it was the curse of forgetfulness.
…and steep my senses in forgetfulness
—Shakespeare’s, Henry IV part 2
Over the Williamsburg Bridge and into the East Village, through the West Village and across the Westside Highway, I would bike up the paved path along the Hudson River whenever I could in the Summer. The steep cliffs across the river mark New Jersey, in what were the fishing villages of old, while sailboats still fill the harbors along the way, basketball courts and soccer fields between them. Daunting hills are the sure sign of Washington Heights, before the Bronx unfold and the bike path begins to follow an old railroad track that runs through the rocky hills that double as little forests. Somewhere along the route, the coterminous highway is forgotten and grassy plains filled with oaks and honey locusts takes over. If the city is notorious for anything, it’s sudden changes, even on the outskirts. On a scorching July afternoon in 2009, I found what I never knew I’d lost, even if it was of another sort.
Some things are forgotten and never reclaimed. If that’s actually true, I can’t remember.
Dreams can evoke a past we forgot ever existed, just as surely as that dream plays games with the latent memories and changes them forever. Fear might remind us of troubles past, joy, of the sorrows of better times, now gone forever. Falling in love can put the loves of one’s past in perspective, even if circumstance is in favor of the one present. When I saw the dark fruits glistening in the ruthless light of the Summer sun, I felt like I’d diminished to the size of an ant. The brambles that were blackberries in the South never made me turn my head up. But these trees were as tall as any honey locust or maple in the area. Mulberry trees were not something I grew up with and certainly nothing I’d noticed before. Outside of High Summer when their fruits are transitioning from a deep red to purple — later, I’d discover white varieties that tasted of honey — the trees are nothing remarkable, not in the way a beech is a ‘beech’, or a weeping willow haunts a pond’s edge. The multitudes of mulberries in the low-hanging branches looked almost identical to blackberries, if not softer to the touch and of a more delicate purple. I remember pulling off a handful, my hands covered in purple sweat, before the sweetness smothered the salt and I was thrust back into a world I’d forgotten, not Georgia, but the world of my Summers in childhood. The taste of mulberries are distinct from the blackberries I’d remembered, but the contrast of flavor and texture, bush and tree, Georgia and NYC, all was intertwined, as surely as the honeysuckle wound around the pines and dogwoods of another life, in another world.