Here in the southern antipodes we are just coming to the end of our glorious fruit season. There is something about the ephemeral nature of these seasonal fruits, – raspberries, greengages, apricots, blackberries, peaches, damsons, nectarenes, mulberries, gooseberries, – that makes me gorge on them, delight in them while they are here. I love them all, but most of all I love the cherries.
We moles are terrible hoarders, but these fruits rot if they are kept.
And so I am eating a cherry for each item tossed. I am unhoarding my burrow to make more space to breathe, more time to take delight in what remains, more room in my mind, a move towards more flow in and out of my burrow; in and out of my molebody.
I don’t really remember cherries much from when I was a wee mole in England- they were a very, very special treat. But in the early days after we moved to Switzerland, I remember all the more an outing we made to Chronberg.
The departure from our home burrow and our nearest kin in England had been a tearful one but Grandmama Mole, who lived heartfirst and had endured more than her fair share of departures, composed her bravest face. We had relations in Switzerland, she told us. Distant, it was true, but through them it was possible to trace our lineage back to the Romans.
Tenuous, Great Uncle Mole interjected, sotte voce, and received a scowl from Grandpapa.
The clan was called Muulwürfli Ursprung, Grandmama went on, ignoring them both, – had been called that since the beginning of time. And (this was said in a dramatic hushed whisper), would these moles have a story or two to tell! Switzerland was a small country, she said. We should drop by – but to be sure to wait until late summer.
In the scheme of things, Switzerland is a small country, but not for moles. One hot day we walked, caught a bus and then a tram and then three trains and another bus to get to Frick. We tramped on to the village Oeken Oberdorf. Even then, we still had a long and dusty climb up the Chronberg. I might have balked but luckily the Chronberg was more of a hill than a mountain – and more luckily still, the cherry orchards (which by this time were a far greater lure than the ancestry), were clearly visible.
Several of the Muulwürfli Ursprung clan were waiting for us at the edge of the orchard. They had a cloth on the ground, put out bowls and bowls of cherries. They plied us with Kirsch, home-distilled. We had worked up such thirst coming up the hill that we drank far too much of it – and me such a wee mole, too.
Their accents were thick, and Papa did his moleful best to converse and translate back to us, Grandmama’s prediction that there were stories to tell, was amply proven.
Members of the Muulwürfli Ursprung clan had lived here since before the Romans brought the first cherry trees from Anatolia. The cherries might seem a boon now but the Legionnaires had settled a major camp, run roughshod over molehills, shaking the ground with their thudding feet and collapsing the tunnels of our forebears.
The story went that two Muulwürfli sisters decided enough was enough and they set up several cells of similarly minded moles in the area and orchestrated the gradual death of the settlement’s economy and a revolt within the army. Every night for several years, the moles would burrow under the treasury and steal the coins, newly arrived from Rome, that were destined for the pay of the soldiers.
What did they do with all that money, I asked, thinking about what I would do if I were so rich. Mama frowned at me. In our family it was considered bad form to talk about money. Filthy lucre, Papa called it, but nonetheless he translated.
The grizzled old Muulwürfli who had until now been telling the tale with toothless glee, looked serious. The sisters, he told us, had wanted to distribute the hoard among all the Chronberg moles, but when they tunnelled to the burrows where the coins had been stashed, the coffers were bare.
There was a lot of bad feeling, each clan accusing the others. It was generally felt that the sisters, having got all the other moles to do the heavy work, had pulled a fast one. It wasn’t true, the old Muulwürfli said, the sisters lived humble lives. But the Muulwürfli Ursprung clan became outcasts, until recently only allowed to live on the periphery of the Chronberg. Now, though, after all these centuries, they had reclaimed their ancestral burrow.
It was dusk when we departed. It would be past midnight when we got home. The Ursprung clan gave us bags and bags of cherries to sustain us on our journey home.
Today I have been feeding myself cherries to ease the flow of my dehoarding. The juice is dribbling down my pelt just as it did then. But it is not just the cherries that have precipitated me into telling you this story. The other day I stumbled across a news item.
A farmer in Chronberg, tending his cherry orchard, had seen something strange in a mole hill. He dug a bit and found a coin, and then another. Fifteen kilos of coins were uncovered – over 4000, – newly minted, dated between 274 and 296 AD. It was hard on the map to see exactly where this was but I could have sworn it was where the grizzled old Muulwürfli Ursprung had pointed out his burrow. Had he known all along – but kept the hoard? Had he died not telling his heirs – who then, in their eagerness to extend the burrow for their ever increasing families, had dug the coins to the surface without recognising what they were?
I like to think that it wasn’t the sisters who kept the stash, but that it was taken by less scrupulous members of the clan, who kept it until the broohaha died down – except it never did. Perhaps they gloated over it, but they could never cash in.
Is this a little morality tale tailored to me? Is it to remind me that hoards that aren’t allowed to breathe and move on and find new outlets are ultimately useless and only clog up their custodians?
That is not to say that I will not keep the treasures that hold the stories of my clan so that I might recount them here.