Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Spring's Eternal : Hope's An Orange

Image via We Heart It

Considering the great effect geography and surroundings can have on one's experiences and the perceptions subsequent, I suppose I am not unique in regarding my "native Southern Californian" status as an integral personal trait. I've heard haughty New Yorkers, proud Mississippians and even one fiercely loyal Nebraskan recount their indigenous tales with possessive rosiness and have soaked up the secondhand magic therein.

Locals the world over have their own means of hailing the spring's seasonal changing of the guard. There is no transition as drastic as winter to spring and maybe that's why you're all the more overjoyed when it occurs. But you're from Southern California, you say. There is no such dramatic passage for you. People in other parts of the world like to use California's lack of seasons against her. "I prefer to know when it's fall," one friend will quip. "I would get bored of all that sunshine," another claims. Yet just because there is subtlety in the changing of the seasons doesn't mean they don't exist. In fact, it is the subtlety which makes me feel all the more a gleeful co-conspirator in the spring that universally signals our emergence from all kinds of literal and metaphoric hibernation.

And so perhaps there is nothing that can lay claim to native Southern California status more wholly than the orange tree. The orange tree is instrumental in my mission to decry the shift in seasons and is ultimately the bearer of that slight but definite evidence of springtime: the orange blossom. The scent hits you before the sight of those sultry miniature blooms when you happen upon them out of the blue one warm April afternoon. And just as surely as you were longing for far-off Saturdays spent beached on the sand moments before, the realization that spring has sprung is heralded by the orange's faintly sweet, honeyed triumph. True, spring may be more dramatically signaled by the descent of New Yorkers on sunny Central Park after a late winter ice thaw. But sorry my Manhattanites, I'll take the understated harbinger of spring that is the orange.

And as a fan of the tangerine colored orb, it appears I am in the best sort of company.

Of the fruits of the year I give my vote to the orange. In the
first place it is a perennial--if not in actual fact, at least in
the greengrocer's shop. On the days when dessert is a name given
to a handful of chocolates and a little preserved ginger, when
mac├ędoine de fruits is the title bestowed on two prunes and a
piece of rhubarb, then the orange, however sour, comes nobly to
the rescue; and on those other days of plenty when cherries and
strawberries and raspberries and gooseberries riot together upon
the table, the orange, sweeter than ever, is still there to hold
its own. Bread and butter, beef and mutton, eggs and bacon, are
not more necessary to an ordered existence than the orange.

It is well that the commonest fruit should be also the best. Of
the virtues of the orange I have not room fully to speak. It has
properties of health-giving, as that it cures influenza and
establishes the complexion. It is clean, for whoever handles it
on its way to your table but handles its outer covering, its top
coat, which is left in the hall. It is round, and forms an
excellent substitute with the young for a cricket ball. The pips
can be flicked at your enemies, and quite a small piece of peel
makes a slide for an old gentleman.

But all this would count nothing had not the orange such
delightful qualities of taste. I dare not let myself go upon this
subject. I am a slave to its sweetness. I grudge every marriage
in that it means a fresh supply of orange blossom, the promise of
so much golden fruit cut short. However, the world must go on.

Next to the orange I place the cherry. The cherry is a
companionable fruit. You can eat it while you are reading or
talking, and you can go on and on, absent-mindedly as it were,
though you must mind not to swallow the stone. The trouble of
disengaging this from the fruit is just sufficient to make the
fruit taste sweeter for the labour. The stalk keeps you from
soiling your fingers; it enables you also to play bob cherry.
Lastly, it is by means of cherries that one penetrates the great
mysteries of life--when and whom you will marry, and whether she
really loves you or is taking you for your worldly prospects. (I
may add here that I know a girl who can tie a knot in the stalk
of a cherry with her tongue. It is a tricky business, and I am
doubtful whether to add it to the virtues of the cherry or not.)

There are only two ways of eating strawberries. One is neat in
the strawberry bed, and the other is mashed on the plate. The
first method generally requires us to take up a bent position
under a net--in a hot sun very uncomfortable, and at any time
fatal to the hair. The second method takes us into the privacy of
the home, for it demands a dressing-gown and no spectators. For
these reasons I think the strawberry an overrated fruit. Yet I
must say that I like to see one floating in cider cup. It gives a
note of richness to the affair, and excuses any shortcomings in
the lunch itself.

Raspberries are a good fruit gone wrong. A raspberry by itself
might indeed be the best fruit of all; but it is almost
impossible to find it alone. I do not refer to its attachment to
the red currant; rather to the attachment to it of so many of our
dumb little friends. The instinct of the lower creatures for the
best is well shown in the case of the raspberry. If it is to be
eaten it must be picked by the hand, well shaken, and then taken.

When you engage a gardener the first thing to do is to come to a
clear understanding with him about the peaches. The best way of
settling the matter is to give him the carrots and the black
currants and the rhubarb for himself, to allow him a free hand
with the groundsel and the walnut trees, and to insist in return
for this that you should pick the peaches when and how you like.
If he is a gentleman he will consent. Supposing that some
satisfactory arrangement were come to, and supposing also that
you had a silver-bladed pocket-knife with which you could peel
them in the open air, then peaches would come very high in the
list of fruits. But the conditions are difficult.

Gooseberries burst at the wrong end and smother you; melons--make
your ears sticky; currants, when you have removed the skin and extracted the seeds, are unsatisfying; blackberries have the faults of raspberries without their virtues; plums are never ripe. Yet all these fruits are excellent in their season. Their faults are faults which we can forgive during a slight acquaintance, which indeed seem but
pleasant little idiosyncrasies in the stranger. But we could not live with them.

Yet with the orange we do live year in and year out. That speaks
well for the orange. The fact is that there is an honesty about
the orange which appeals to all of us. If it is going to be bad--
for even the best of us are bad sometimes --it begins to be bad
from the outside, not from the inside. How many a pear which
presents a blooming face to the world is rotten at the core. How
many an innocent-looking apple is harbouring a worm in the bud.
But the orange has no secret faults. Its outside is a mirror of
its inside, and if you are quick you can tell the shopman so
before he slips it into the bag. 
- Golden Fruit from Not That It Matters by the inimitable A. A. Milne 

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