Friday, December 17, 2010

The world in a Cutie

Another memory from childhood . . . Must be the season that brings them on!

On Christmas morning, like many other kids, I would rush downstairs to see what had appeared under the tree since going to bed. And, of course, whether my Christmas stocking contained coal. Fortunately, neither anthracite nor lignite were found in the toe of the stocking. What was always there, however, was an orange. Why an orange?

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, oranges were not available on trees in December (nor any other time of year!). They were always trucked in from exotic places like Orange County California, or far-off Florida (both about as remote as the North Pole). Certainly we could find them in the stores, but distribution costs were higher then. And, as the tradition of "oranges-in-the-stocking" stemmed from my parents' generation, the costs (and availability) in their experience were even higher still. In other words, oranges were a luxury in the Northwest.* And to find one in the toe of the stocking (along with some candy, of course) was a joy. And, oh, the aroma of ripping into that peel!

Now, of course, we can get raspberries in December in Colorado. They don't come from 'round here. We ship 'em in, along with all of those other fruits and vegetables that don't deal well with inches of snow and sub-freezing temperatures. What were once available primarily as luxuries are now just a quick trip to Safeway away. Indeed, not only can we get raspberries in December in Colorado, we can get ORGANIC raspberries.

In our convenience-oriented society, I begin to take for granted the availability of non-native, non-seasonal produce. Oranges in December. Corn in January. Raspberries in February.
I've got two "Cuties" (clementines) in front of me right now, awaiting snack-time (with little stickers on them that say "Stocking Stuffer"!). All shipped in for my eating-pleasure. And I love 'em all!

I am reminded, however, of all that it takes to get that exotic fruit to my table now. Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh writes of a "Tangerine Meditation" in his book Peace is Every Step.** He gave children some tangerines and encouraged them to meditate on the fruit's origins. The children saw the tangerine, the tree where it grew. They began to see the other factors that contributed to its growth: the sun, the soil, the rain. They peeled, smelled and ate the fruit mindfully, savoring all of it. I've done this meditation before, and it's wonderful. I think, the next time I eat a citrus fruit in December - maybe beginning with those two Cuties on my desk - I'll do it again. But I'll add some contemplation on all of the other factors that brought them to my desk: the pickers, the packers, the shippers, the store clerks; those who built the trucks, who refined the petroleum; those who made the box and the little mesh bag. And maybe, then, I'll offer a word of thanks for all involved!

The world in a Cutie. What an amazing gift! I think it's time, too, for my kids to have oranges in their stockings!



* Here's a delightful, informative, article on oranges in stockings. Clearly it wasn't just MY family's tradition, or one confined to the North.
** Bantam Books, 1991, pg. 21.

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