Low-Hanging Fruit

This is not a metaphor. It’s literally a post about the dearth of low-hanging fruit in my backyard. Sorry if you were looking for something deeper. (But yesterday I did wax on about celebrations and birthdays and milestones and fireworks.)

Anyway, the mulberry tree in my backyard has been the source of some consternation over the years. For the first three or four summers, I grumbled about the neighbors’ stupid tree that dropped berries all over the yard. It shaded the yard so nothing would grow, and the berries made a mess. The birds eat the berries, and then leave streaks of vibrant purple poo down the side of my white house. While mowing the lawn, my legs get stained Grimace-purple, and once the berries start rotting, a stench like stale alcohol dampens the air.

And then in late fall, the tree drops all its leaves in about 36 hours, typically the week after the city ends its free leaf pickup for the year.

The tree is wrapped around wires, so I called ComEd at one point, who came out and said that the affected wires are actually phone lines. I called AT&T, who said that until the tree caused a service disruption, they wouldn’t touch it.

When I rebuilt the fence two years ago, I discovered that the mulberry tree was actually on my side of the property line. I rejoiced, because I had always thought it was the (indifferent, bad) absentee landlord’s tree. And then I discovered removing a tree is very, very pricey, especially when involving utility lines and a tight space wedged between two garages. So my good neighbor brought over his chainsaw and helped remove the worst offending branches that stretched into my yard.

The mess of berries has been reduced, and my backyard has enough light for a feeble attempt at a garden, though I have learned that 3-4 hours of sunlight isn’t enough for most crops.

The irony of the whole situation is that I had never eaten a mulberry. I had once stepped out of the shower and seen a neighbor’s kid up in the tree with a bucket, right at my eye level, but I was so bitter at the tree that I assumed the fruit must also be bitter.

The other night, I finally tried a couple mulberries off a tree elsewhere in the city. They’re pretty damn good. Sweet, juicy and worth the stained fingers. All this time, I’ve had a bumper crop right in my own backyard.

So yesterday evening, while lounging in the yard with a book, I decided I should try to harvest some of my own berries. And I promptly realized that there is no low-hanging fruit – all the low branches were removed by my overzealous efforts. To reach berries, I need to either climb the tree or a ladder to the garage roof (where the raccoons spend their nights, fighting and pooping).

You can see the sprouts of non-berry-bearing leaves protruding from where a giant limb was removed.

Or I can just pick them up from the ground, as I did, carefully stepping to minimize the purple stains on my bare feet.

Once I settled back into my chair to read, the squirrels helped, running through the tree, shaking berries loose.

But beware the perils of cutting away low-hanging fruit.

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