The Oranges Of Autumn – Reed Venrick

Summer’s citrus groves and
orchards offered us kids little for
snacks, no ripe fruit, until finally
autumn, and then we relished that
after-school, georgic freedom,
scrambling like colts and calves after

another numbing four-walled
week of classroom duties, so
we sought out those first oranges
of autumn, those softening, pliable
skins, digging deep, our dirty finger-
nails, deep into sneezing rinds, piquant

and green, ripping off the too-tight
wrap-around skins, sinking our unbrushed
teeth deeper into the sweet yet acid
flesh. I recall a local farmer once
calling out—those were not oranges,
but greens, immature like us, yet

like us, changing fast, even as we
spoke, doing what citrus does best,
uniting its sugar brix with sour PH,
that sweet and sour taste mixing
October’ s foggy days with November’s
cooler mornings that opened increasingly

chilly and sweater-cold, when the oranges,
the grown ups called “hamlins,” expanded
suddenly from golf-ball size to baseballs,
even as we clutched them in sweaty hands.
Yes, a whole orchard contained, an inland
inland sea, with baubles and bubbles like

like tropical Christmas trees, filling up
with sweet juice. We kids just called them
“Earlies” but we loved that citrus mix
that satiated the paradoxical palates
of adolescents—country kids growing up
fast under a lengthy sun-burnt south,

where we learned from stuffy schoolbooks
that fruit trees up north were called
“Deciduous,” those apples, pears, peaches
and cherries, yet in the groves that circled
‘round a winter haven’s chain-of lakes,

we could not imagine nature’s world beyond
the evergreen leaves of mild winters,
nor could we see inside the mystic spin
of nature’s evolving shades and colors,
nor understand the classroom biology

that explained why the rind of an orange
stays green until Florida’s temperature
falls near 40 degrees; therefore when
we woke on those first chilly November
mornings, we saw how the ethereal frost
powdered the skins and rinds with concentric

circles and created for us—kids running
in bare feet and cut-off jeans—the contradiction
of the natural world of a sandy ridge that
centered our peninsula, yet it would follow
us down the winding rows and glancing
blows of our lives. Was it just the steamy

climate? Or some juxtaposition of the sweet
and sour of a sub-tropical fruit, something
sharply contrasting, some concentricity
of rainbows ‘round the rinds of expanding minds?
Something gleaned in the cold-front snaps
of Christmas? Something in December mornings

when the green circles of childhood spun full-
circle into the ripe oranges of adolescence.

Reed Venrick usually writes poems with themes of nature.

Image via Pixabay

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