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Perspectives are commentaries produced by and for WNIJ listeners, from a panel of regular contributors and guests. You're invited to comment on or respond to any Perspective on our Facebook page or through Twitter (@wnijnews), in keeping with our Discussion Policy. If you would like to submit your own Perspective for consideration, send us a script that will run about 90 seconds when read -- that's about 250 words -- and email it to NPR@niu.edu, with "Perspectives" in the subject line.

Perspective: The mulberry, undressed

Chris Fink
Fresh mulberry leaves

Like most good things, it’s intimate and rare: the way a mulberry tree undresses. Last week I was lucky to be in the woods to see. You know mulberries: they’re crooked and messy and birds love them more than people do. Being unpopular makes them shy, and so they disrobe quickly in just a single fall morning. Once one mulberry shakes a leaf, the others join, and within hours every mulberry branch in the forest is bare.

mulberry tree
Chris Fink

This undressing happens the morning after the first hard frost. It must be cold and still, and then the sun must shine. Why is that? Why do mulberries do it this way and not the oaks? A botanist could tell you, but I’m just here to say what it’s like. So. Overnight November 3, it got down to 20. Next morning I walked the Peace Trail near Afton, a good place to watch. Mulberries like to line up along a field or fence or a trail.

When the sun hit the river and the frost on a million leaves, the Peace Trail lit up. I heard it happening before I saw it, the clicking of the frost-heavy leaves hitting the lime rock path. It’s best to train your gaze on a single tree, so I picked a curvaceous mulberry and stood under it. All around me the green leaves dropped, released by the sun, and soon I was standing ankle deep in a blanket of them. My mulberry seemed startled to have a witness.

There’s something uncanny about a pile of green leaves dropping, and it smells wrong too. Soapy and fresh, more like the start of something than its end.