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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Stripped Fruit

June 8, 1980

Someone ripped the leaves off the mulberry tree branches that over hangs this forgotten dock – a dock just up stream from the Outwater Lane Bridge near Dunkin Donuts.
I always thought of this place as secret because no one could see if from the road, branches blocking the narrow path down the back. But I knew in my heart someone else came here, and now I have evidence that it’s true.
I feel as bad seeing this destruction as when a burglar broke into my apartment on Passaic Street, violating the place, leaving it to feel less safe.
This was no random act – each branch has been cleared so that none overhang the dock.
Perhaps they did it because the tree routinely dumped its purple berries onto the surface, staining the wood so that anybody coming here would find it difficult to sit or stand without getting stained, too.
Now, no berries are left, although they still have several weeks of fruit bearing left.
I know of other trees I can go to along the river and still feed my face full, but I feel cheated by this.
I always wondered why the river had so many of these trees, and an old fisherman named Ben told me.
They were planted deliberately as a 19th century get rich quick scheme after Paterson became the capital of silk mills and area residents thought they could help supply the silk by feeding silk worms that feed on mulberry leaves.
“Silk worms feed on mulberry leaves,” Ben said.
The Passaic River has routinely suffered such schemes.
Local tribes of Native Americans used to feed on fresh water oysters, some of which grew so large in these waters that their shells were the sizes of dinner plates.
I thought Ben was pulling my leg when he told me this since me and Dave had wandered these waters since just after we could walk and never saw one oyster in them or any size.
Ben said greedy white settlers harvested the oysters to extinction, not because they wanted them for food, or even to use the shells for jewelry or money the way Native Americans did. Most of the time, they dug up the oysters, opened them, and then left them to rot in much the same way their families would later do with the Buffalo out west.
Some fool claimed to have found a pearl in one which started a frenzy that did not end until all of the oysters were gone.
Some people come to the riverside for mushrooms, harvesting them all. Some it seems have come to strip the trees of mulberries, too, maybe the homeless men, down on Dundee Island, I think, most likely spoiled Garfield kids, seeking simply to cause destruction.
I hope it was the homeless.
I clean the leaves from the dock for a place to sit and then I sit, sending the leaves down into the fast moving water below, a kind of sailor’s funeral, with me as the only mourner.

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