At the base of a tree — a fruitless mulberry tree, that may or may not still exist, that harbored young juvenile refugees on imagined harrowing ocean voyages, and imagined luxury voyages, and in the branches of which pirates waged wars of the most serious sort, and forged and broke alliances, and spied from the highest branches that would support the weight of a nearly transparent child — at the base of this tree, there was a pile of acorns.
There was a pile of acorns at the base of the fruitless mulberry tree. For years, and most likely still, whether the mulberry tree still exists or not, oaks sprouted from the base of the tree, and grew exuberantly until they were transplanted or otherwise dispatched. There could have been a grove of oaks somewhere by now.
The acorns were put there by the tree children — a small band of hunter-gatherer naturalist engineers. There were two siblings, both girls, and a rowdy bunch of neighborhood suburban hooligans (from good families, of course).
The Chumash Indians settled what is now coastal Southern California thousands of years before these tree children arrived. The tree children were, daily, extracted from the arboreal refuge and sent away to a place where large adults pried open their crania in order to pour information soup inside. At the end of the day, they were allowed to return to recover at home from the procedure, though rarely in a manner that judicious folk would consider sufficient.
On some days, however, in place of this passive cranial infiltration, the tree children were taken to places of interaction, and met with people who on occasion seemed to possess a more proper awareness of space, time, history, and manners. On one such occasion the visit was to an interactive historical institution that included, among many other things, a display of the way the Chumash ground acorns into flour, and made soup, and flatbread. This was important, and was carried out thusly:
Acorns were gathered and left to dry in the sun. They were then shelled and ground, and the ground meal was washed to remove the bitter tannic acid. The washed meal could then either be dried into flour or cooked into an acorn mush.
We never knew whether we had the right kind of acorns. We never quite knew how long to wash out the poison, or whether our kind of acorns had poison, or how perhaps our protocol should differ. We carried on anyway. We launched an all-hands expedition.
The acorn collecting went brilliantly. Nearly every child in the neighborhood contributed, and since the city had planted some species of tree that produced acorns in the frontage space of every house on the next block, we were not in short supply. We collected daily, and piled the acorns, before drying, in the ring pit at the base of the fruitless mulberry.
The shelling and grinding of the acorns turned out to be hard work. This was most likely because we lacked the proper tools, and/or hadn’t allowed sufficient time for the acorns to dry. It could also be because we were roughly ages four to eight and were most likely denied access to power tools. This was in a home where the father figure had on occasion been visited by local authorities to be told to stop rocketing tennis balls out of cannons with propane. So.
We eventually moved on to other projects. The park behind the house did harbor a grove of walnut trees, and the same merry band of tree children spent some weeks harvesting green husked walnuts and drying them in the sun. This project worked. Two discoveries were made, however. The drying time and temperature is critical to how tasty the inside of the walnut ends up being. And, someone is very, very allergic to the green husks of walnuts.
We made dams in the gutter, trying to engineer a way to control the flow of water down the street. Oddly, every time this started to work, we were informed that we lacked water rights to this land. And that if we didn’t stop, we were going to flood something. And/or be grounded.
We collected rocks from everywhere, on every vacation. Our parents were indulgent in packing extra empty suitcases for us to fill with rocks. Even if they were very small suitcases and we had to carry them ourselves. When I took geology in college, I found some of the rock collection boxes in the garage at home and noted that the collection was truly outstanding in breadth, as well as beauty. I’ve never lost the habit of collecting rocks on my travels.
We collected tiny pine cones, no bigger than the tip of a child’s finger, from whatever tree drops those. We stuffed our pockets with them. There was always something to be harvested or collected. On camping trips, if there was a stream, we tied pop tops to a string to a stick and went fishing. Usually in four to six inches of clear running stream. If there was pyrite in the stream bed, we panned for gold.
We grew up. One of us did. One of us left the present tense of this storyline, and the other continues to be confused by this thing called growing up.
Some few years ago, the house was sold. Whether I loved or hated the house, or something in between, or both, it still is the neutral setting for most of my dreams. It still it a part of my mind. It is where I came from. When it’s was sold, I wasn’t there, though I wanted to be.
In the backyard of that house, two beloved family dogs who lived to old age rest in the shade of that tree. Two rabbits. A hamster.
In the backyard, in a spot where there may or may not still stand a fruitless mulberry tree, I do know that oak trees will continue to grow. Mysteriously. The inexplicable adoptive progeny of a tree that was engineered to leave behind no progeny. Hundreds or more will sprout. Beautiful, unexpected folly. My partner in crime is here no more, but our folly carries on.