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Tardy Mulberry Trees, Theoretically

By Jennie LaFortune


“To be whole. To be complete. Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.” | Terry Tempest Williams

When I walked near the old house I wondered if the mulberry tree had started to sprout leaves yet. Most assuredly not, it’s barely the starting line of non-frosty mornings. A huge grand mulberry tree in the backyard of my childhood shaded most of our yard. It was grand. Like a kind sir or a gentle mother. Every year my grandma declared it had died. “I think the mulberry tree is dead”, she’d say. And then, as if on cue, would lightly breathe, “I still love that tree; it’s such a grand tree.” The tree always came around on its own time table. Eventually. Usually in midsummer, and it was never decidedly dead. It’s funny how repetitive phrases that you heard and half cared about in childhood roll around in your mind as an adult. The words, like an overhead whisper, drop into your mind at unsuspecting times.

Some say it’s not useful to recall the past in case it becomes your idol. The past can easily bring around our ghost ships, but I think it depends on how and what we worship. When the aged can transform to a kind of love, I think that’s devotion.

“What finally helped me was an image from a medieval monk, Brother Lawrence, who saw all of us as trees in winter, with little to give, stripped of leaves and color and growth, whom God loves unconditionally, anyway. My priest friend Margaret, who works with the aged and who shared this image with me, wanted me to see that even though these old people are no longer useful in any traditional meaning of the word, they are there to be loved unconditionally, like trees in winter.” | Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

I might miss the tree more now than when I could look at her everyday. We’re separate, but it’s still planted in me. I had escaped on this walk to get away from endless paperwork and decisions of the moment. There’s some big and small changes happening right now, and I asked for them, but sometimes showing leaves and popping up can be like, oh wait, just kidding, I think I’ll stay put, never mind. As I walk, recalling the mulberry, I think about how in my winter months of life I have felt such stagnancy and how I unconsciously and falsely connected it to my worth.

“I am struck by the fact that the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think that the same is true for human beings.” | Henry David Thoreau’s Journal

Maybe the times we think we’re stagnant and dead are the times we are storing up things in our trunk, waiting to burst when we burst. We’re just a tardy mulberry tree. I envy its lack of conformity to expectations.

One time when I sat in a professional development meeting for teachers, the instructor said something to the effect of, “If you have to give tests, staple a blank page and title it ‘here’s all the stuff I know about this topic but the test didn’t ask me about it.’” Sometimes the dead branches are alive, the failing student knows about centrifugal motion, and our own expectations and changes are purposeful, dare I say divine.

“When we make a change, it’s so easy to interpret our unsettledness as unhappiness, and our unhappiness as a result of having made the wrong decision. Our mental and emotional states fluctuate madly when we make big changes in our lives, and some days we could tightrope across Manhattan, and other days we are too weary to clean our teeth. This is normal. This is natural. This is change.” | Jeanette Winterson

Walking away from the street, I wondered, is she there? The tree and Grandma. And a lot of things and people really.  Did they take her out to make room for the new pool? If she is still rooted, when will her leaves tardily surprise and pop? Or, if the new people on the green grass even notice her fickle late timetable. And then I remembered that it may not matter because the mulberry tree (click here ) has an evolution and lifespan too. It doesn’t matter if the tree is still there physically or not. It was there in my childhood, there in my young adult years, and still there in a way now.

About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

5 thoughts on “Tardy Mulberry Trees, Theoretically”

  1. But what I want to know is if that large mulberry tree bore fruit? We have a small one in front of the school I work at and the fruit is so wonderful that I go back, when school is out, in August to harvest it. Bigger and sweeter than blackberries, the mulberries are a treat that can't be bought in a grocery store, at least around here.


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