Even though I grew up between New York and New Jersey, I don't have nearly as much knowledge about the native flora as I do in Miami. Here, the flowers and fruit are in your face at all times. I've learn about native plants from customers at Mima, about pollinators from gardeners Mary Benton and Lina Castaneda, I've learned to forage fruit with Raul, about medicinal "weeds" like Spanish Needle from Gabi. Even though I'd spent time in nature as a child, it'd often been on a set path, at a distance from the brush that might be poison ivy, and further from the ticks. This summer, though, my perspective shifted.
The Sunday morning of our trip to Shelter Island, we'd gone by the farmer's market to peruse the local faire and pick up a special treat for our hosts, Aunt Ellen and Uncle Ralph. Vendors included a distillery that used lavender in their gin, a café with nice pastries and breakfast burritos, awesome mushroom growers (that ended up being the treat), a few local farms, and artisans that sold stuff like crocheted handbags. But our almost-two-year-old Carmelo spotted something better-- a humongous mulberry tree, full of fresh berries. Overflowing, really. Raul hoisted him up and he gorged on them, every few stopping to feed Raul before eating yet another. They were so sweet and juicy. We weren't the first to enjoy them (the ground showed that rabbit and deer had been there not long ago!) but our grazing encouraged more marketgoers to notice the fruit and try it, too. What a gift! The funniest part was, as we were leaving, we noticed that the vendor just below the big tree, their fabric tent actually hitting the fruit laden branches, was selling pints of mulberries.
A couple of days later, on my parent's couch in Jersey, I scrolled up to a friend Carla's video about berry foraging. I learned that berries grow on the edge of the forest and a field, or clearing. For over twenty years, my family had gone out with our dogs for walks at Thompson Park, and for the first time I saw the berries. Dodging the poison ivy, I left the trail and approached the bushes, using my mom's hat to fill with dewberries that I later found out were unripe (thus the tartness-- still enjoyable) and a few, carefully picked between the thorns, tiny raspberries. I made a jam and was just delighted.
Back at Casa Cuatro Cocos, I feel like I'm only at the brink of seeing the fruit all around us. I've had capuli off the bush of our hedge, like a cotton candy aguanymanto. Coconut plums and Surinam cherry are now gone, but sea grapes are soon to ripen. There's always Poor Man's Pepper and Spanish needle down in the grass, always coconuts up towards the sky, always some kind of fragrant herb. I want to dive in to the perennial abundance innate to our natural environment, and immerse myself in it for our own pleasure, but also in order to protect it.