There’s several mulberry trees growing nearby my tent, where I am camping for three months in an effort to approach 100% environmental sustainability for myself. I was wonderfully relieved to discover that the trees near me are in fact Red Mulberry trees, a native species! This is in contrast to Paper Mulberry trees, which are an invasive species in many places, including Western Pennsylvania. I can hardly wait for them to ripen.
Since embarking on this three-month challenge, I have been thrilled to realize that I now know so much more about the plants in my locality. At a glance, I am becoming able to identify which plants are Virginia Creeper, Garlic Mustard and Poison Ivy, whereas I once would have glanced at the forest floor and called it “green.”
Unfortunately, the range of edible berries and other fruits in my neighborhood is slim. No strawberries, raspberries or elderberries for me. Invasive species have ravaged the remaining swathes of Western Pennsylvania wild land. Native species of edible plants, such as Pawpaw and Hackberry, are all but gone in the re-wilded areas of Pittsburgh, lost to the vicious fungi-bearing roots of Garlic Mustard or the insidious growth of Japanese Knotweed.
Especially for someone whose focus is to live sustainably, this ecological disaster is not another headline–it’s my own sustenance. It is personal. It means I will be eating more of my diet from the farmer’s markets and the dumpsters during the summer months than I pictured. Or possibly, than I should. With my increased ability to identify plants comes the burden of a common sadness. For now, I am also able to see how severely our region lacks its original biodiversity.
While there are several aspects of the way I live now that I would choose not to endorse for others, I wholeheartedly encourage others to experience this feeling! By living closer to my basic needs, I have gained an intimacy and connection with the ecosystem around me that is as priceless as the first ripe summer mulberry.
photo credit: Suzanne Long under a Creative Commons License