- Berries are everywhere, along with fruits, nuts, seeds, even hidden tubers. Although some are stunted from lack of water, like children everywhere lives of offspring were prioritized by parents, and the crop remains far too large to be fully consumed by birds or the few remaining small ground animals. Some will hang on through winter, when finding enough to eat is a different matter entirely.
- Once upon a time in much of our Northern hemisphere, this was harvest time and harvest moon, with final picking, pickling, canning, drying, salting and smoking. Busy days and nights storing bounty against the certain famine to come. Today _ well according to most media, harvest moon is just some curiosity to point out to youngsters, another irrelevant tidbit from the past like the names of months. Most of us claim to be overworked, but at least as frost approaches again, I think we are clueless as to what our ancestors accomplished.
Fruits promise future
Encapsulate life gone
- Berries, unlike most seeds and nuts, tend to attract attention with color or scent. They sit in field or forest flashing a bright “eat me” message. Seems a peculiar way to do things, going to all that work only to have offspring begging to be consumed. Ah, but the fruit is not the seed, and the undigested seed falls wherever it is dropped by animal or bird, enclosed in a handy packet of fertilizer. Such long-term complexity is astounding.
- Many berries are nutritious and delicious for humans, although others try to keep our species from bothering with them, like this hard, dry, tasteless and (for all I know) poisonous yellow variety. I came late to berry appreciation, although these days I have them on my cold cereal every morning. When I was a kid, the only way to get them year-round was as some kind of jelly or jam, since the natural harvest season for any given berry is often short indeed.
Met Joe coming out of Been & Jerry’s on Main street, waffle cone in hand. “That looks good! What flavor?”
“Cherry Garcia,” he responded happily, wiping his mouth with a paper napkin. “I like cherries, especially after the pits are removed.”
“Ah, but I think the sugar helps,” I said.
“Of course, of course.”
“Tell me,” I asked, “I’ve been wondering because I read so much about it. Do you think that berries and vegetables and all tasted so much better when we were growing up?”
“Well, you know, I could taste things a lot better back then.”
“Agreed, but to read some of the reviews now, once upon a time each bite was an orgasmic sensation. I don’t find strawberries or tomatoes or _for that matter _ cherries remarkably different than I remember.”
“Well, I do know store tomatoes were pretty awful for a while.”
“Yeah, but that was true even back then. We grew our own _ I guess tomatoes might be nicer just picked from our garden, but everything else was just fruit and whatever.”
“I liked most of them better in jam or with sugar,” he admitted.
“I know nobody wrote them up. The farm stands didn’t get much beyond fresh and local. Sometimes sweet, especially for the corn. But nothing matched current fantastic descriptions of luscious heritage crops.”
“Capitalism in action,” Joe noted.
“They can get away with it,” I said, “who’s going to remember or call them out anyway?”
“The old days were always so much better,” sarcastic.
“I think it’s too many food writers with nothing real to do, and maybe too much food.”
- Small fruit like this crabapple is hard to distinguish from berries, and for that matter by common scientific definition a lot of what are called berries are “really” fruit. But a berry is just one of the many sub-specifications of fruit in general. Sometimes it’s more fun to go with the
obvious and decide anything within a certain size range is a berry for all intents and purposes.
- Our age has a mania for classification, for we have largely convinced ourselves (like primitives supposedly used to think about photographs) that by fully describing something in words we have captured its soul. In a nutshell, that represents the problem with all those who gabble on about artificial intelligence and how a computer “like us” will soon be constructed. The name of the thing, the description of the thing, a model of the thing, are not the thing itself, and wisdom respects that.
- Like children, we smugly believe that a workable theory explains everything, and we gain control by knowing. Thus it has been with evolution. Lots of time. Drive to reproduce. Overproduction of offspring, some of them genetically varied from parents. Survival of the fittest. Bingo, nothing more to be said. Before that the theory was just a simplistic _ a god or gods who created everything just so just for us.
- Anyone who pulls themselves out of the madness of basic simplicity realizes that even if basic ideas like “survival” or “gravity” or “atoms” are “true”, their manifestations in our real world are certainly not. In a way, it is the exact opposite of Plato’s cave. Instead of the “ideals” outside the cave casting shadows which we take for real things, the real things we know cast shadows into our logic which create models we mistake for reality. Reality always is what is, our explanations are necessarily incomplete (but useful) ways to gain power over our environment.
- Berries, fruits, seeds are examples of incredible complexity. Stationary plants that use insects to cross pollinate to produce enticing fruits to be eaten and spread farther than the wind could carry. Animals that eat the fruits. Insects that need the flower pollen. Environments to support everything. And sure, some smart aleck will show how any particular part of it is easily explained with a simple modification of this or that theory, until another layer of infinite onion is peeled off and yet more fantastic anomalies are revealed.
- I admire science as much as anyone, and believe it is a better tool for human control than anything else. What I am not sure of is that a tool for control is necessarily the best tool for figuring out what should be done. It’s the old “use the hammer for everything because we have a hammer” problem. The need now is not to stop using science nor to limit its applications, but rather to understand that in certain areas we have better tools that we should be concentrating on.
- The analogy I would close with would be cooking. Scientifically, we can more and more finely describe and tune how to make and season a given dish, such as a cheese omelet. But sometimes we want a steak, or ice cream, or salad. Understanding why we want such things, how they might make us happy or unsatisfied, how much of a role cooking should play in our lives, and our very thoughts concerning meals and memories and how each of us is totally different from each other rapidly become too complex for any equations which can be applied to our fast-moving “real” world.
- All mammals learn by observing others, as well as through their own senses. Humans add to that being able to convey information with modulated sounds or irregular marks on some surface. Poison ivy seems to be a combination of all three _ warnings by parents, experience with leaves, and unappetizing appearance of the berries themselves. Birds and other wildlife apparently enjoy these immensely.
- By the time the fruit appears, even the most stubborn child has learned that shiny three lobed leaves should be left alone, which is fortunate because otherwise there might be some wicked poisonings in the fall. It takes longer for older folks to realize that even the bare vines are hazardous, and burning smoke doubly so. Yet for all its inconvenience, poison ivy is much too hard to root out entirely, and pretty enough if left alone. So we follow a live and let live philosophy, one of the few rigorously enforced by both man and nature.