A couple of years ago, when we began clearing the lot that we currently live on, I went through the lot chopping, cutting, and burning down trees. My first goal was to remove all of the dead brush to get the place cleaned up. This particular lot was completely wooded with mostly oak and hickory trees, and a few other types of trees as well.
After clearing all of the dead brush out I decided to start clearing what I thought would be a good place for our driveway. I cut a lot of small scrubby trees down, mostly with a hand saw and pruning shears.
I don’t consider myself to be a tree expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I removed or kept trees based on their location and appearance. One such tree that I decided to keep was right beside the would-be driveway. Its bark was smooth and striped, and it had smooth, shiny, pointed leaves. It reminded me very much of a peach tree. I had been around peach trees growing up on the farm. My dad had planted some at the end of our garden. I don’t recall them ever amounting to much, or tasting the peaches, but nonetheless, this tree reminded me of them, which I suppose is part of the reason I decided to keep it.
This spring, we discovered what kind of tree the “mock” peach tree was. As we sat on our wraparound porch and watched the blooms come and go, we soon discovered small berries on the tree. We looked on impatiently everyday as the berries grew and changed colors. Eventually, the berries became a very dark blackish-purple. During the time of waiting, I did some research and discovered that we had a wild cherry tree. I suppose I was as excited as my dad must have been when he planted his peach trees, because I began thinking of all the cherries we would eat.
When the cherries became ripe, I picked a few of them, tried them, and had a couple of our kids, Bradley and Hannah, try some too. We all agreed that they were good, although looking back I’m not so sure they really were. We had struck a gold mine of cherries!
Next came the hard task of harvesting the cherries. I had quickly picked the huge crop of about six that were at arm’s length. The rest of the “gold” was nicely nestled in the upper portion of the sixteen foot tree. I knew that if we were going to bake a lifetime supply of cherry pies, I would have to think of something.
Being the genius that I am, I was so glad that I had had the foresight to build our wraparound porch within a few feet of the cherry tree. I immediately went up on the porch roof and could easily reach the top part of the tree. I began calling for my wife, Katrina, to bring me a bowl for our bountiful crop.
She came up on the shingled, hot roof with me in the sweltering heat and we picked all the cherries that were in reach. But there were many more! So Katrina and I took turns pulling the top of the tree over with all our might while the other one picked cherries as if our life depended on it. You would have thought it was our last meal!
After a short while of heat harvesting, we decided that our crop was large enough. I had gotten tar on my jeans from the hot shingles I had been sitting on, but the huge crop of half a sandwich bag was well worth it.
We took our cherries inside and washed them, and then sampled a few more. Then it occurred to us that we should check to be sure that these were edible before consuming the rest of them. I searched the Internet fervently and found site after site that contained the same information, mostly about cows and horses dying from eating distressed wild cherry tree leaves, and also many references to wild cherry pits being poisonous.
A terrible cold sweat came over me, wondering if I had executed my entire family with my exuberant desire to start a wild cherry plantation. I could just visualize them dropping like flies, starting with the youngest first. What had I done?
I immediately put a ban on eating anymore of the cherries until we were sure it was safe. I never uncovered any concrete information saying that these berries would kill us, but I decided to play it safe and throw them away. Maybe I should have had the sense to realize that there was some real meaning to one of the websites referring to these as “choke cherries”.
I suppose that in a few years there will be a story on the news regarding a poison berry epidemic that began at a nearby landfill (from the ones I threw away), but I’m glad to say that my family is doing well, and I’m sure we will enjoy LOOKING at our wild cherry tree for years to come. That is unless we eat some other type of berries growing around here that make us all go blind.
Handwritten by David Steen, with God smiling, October 8, 2006
Since the original writing of this story, which was one of my early works, we have enjoyed several years with our cherry tree, which is doing quite well. Last year at this time the kids seemed to gain the most interest in the tree, doing everything they could to scale it’s trunk and bend the lower limbs down to reach those little purple treasures.
The kids have found some competition this year for the cherries, a few critters which have a much greater ability to climb than they do. A little chipmunk seems to have made itself at home crawling all over the tree, as well as a fat squirrel that was lying across its branches, mocking us this morning well out of our reach.
Yesterday we toyed with the idea of making jelly, but would probably have to get a lift truck or hire the squirrel and chipmunk to scale the tree for enough cherries to make it worth our while. Unless we get really adventurous, I suppose we’ll just enjoy the shade of the tree and watch the kids, squirrels, chipmunks, and birds fight over its bounty.