For the Love of Three Oranges

For the Love of Three Oranges
(with apologies to play write Carlo Gozzi and composer Sergei Prokofiev)

I am fortunate to be staying in an area of north Florida that's within a small, pleasant wildlife preserve. Boardwalks and paths meander through semi-tropical forests, swamps and marshland leading to an old wooden wharf that braves the tides as it wades out into the San Sebastian River. A fortunate visitor might be treated to a graceful dolphin water ballet or even a glimpse of a languid manatee combing the river bottom for seagrass. I have learned how to observe the tides and the remarkable changes brought about by their ebb and flow. Muddy mounds of oyster beds at low tide beckon snowy egrets, assortments of colorful herons, roseate spoonbills, merganser ducks, exotic ibis and the occasional migratory crane and wood stork gather to rest in slash pine and mangrove branches or wade in the shallows upon stilt-like legs, seeking minnows, tiny crabs and other riparian morsels. Brown pelicans dive-bomb the watery flats hoping for a mouth-pouch of mullet. Gawky, shadowy anhingas, sinewy diving fowl with snakelike necks, disappear below the water's surface and emerge minutes later at a surprising distance. Osprey and bald headed eagle shreiks pierce the stillness as they glide on the draughts overhead scanning for fish in the waves below while black vultures wheel even higher in the clouds above them, sensing carrion in the adjacent meadows of bluestem, horsetail and fakahatchee grass that lie below .

I have learned to read the sky with its infinite cloud formations, striations decorating the firmament with myriad colors and patterns as they foretell the weather. I have long observed the angles of the sun's arc as it gallops the glowing heavens, heralding dawn and dusk, alternately sharing time and space with countless, timeless guiding stars that punctuate the curtain of night. And, of course, the moon – Lord of the Tides – as he takes his celestial ride.

In the distance, across the San Sebastian, I hear the crawl of encroaching civilisation, the low rumble and thrum of US Highway One that stretches all the way from Maine to Key West. The distant wail of an unseen emergency vehicle duets, sotto voce, with a tired Florida East Coast Railroad freight train that labors its 300 car load slowly past the low, silhouetted skyline of the nation's oldest continuously occupied city - Saint Augustine (1565). This is the “Ancient City” provides the backdrop for all the wealth of Nature and history that surrounds me.


I'd been awfully sick for well over two weeks. A cough so violent that I feared its wracking would crack my ribs like brittle twigs. Lungs had transmogrified into two sacks of viral viscosity and my skull, like a possessed shamanic maraca, thrashed around the synaptic mush of my brain with each pulmonary explosion. Sleep had become a phantasm. My worried wife implored that I make a visit to our local haste! Numerous tests and an Xray confirmed what I already knew from prior experience – my nemesis, my Achilles' heel - pneumonia. I was discharged with a pocketful of prescriptions and orders to stay hydrated, get lots of rest, and make sure to walk as much as I could.

Not at all on top of my game, I hadn't dressed, eaten more than a few bowls of soup nor engaged in proper hygiene in many days. Our typically attentive cat avoided me. The tonic that had always resurrected me - making music – had evaporated, leaving me dry and flat. Vacantly, I stared at television movies for hours, remembering little. Daily the headlines screamed that the world was going to hell everywhere and in every way. Christmas was coming, daylight grew shorter. My family's holiday plans now needed to be cancelled. I was immobilized, sad, derailed.

Finally one morning, angry at my dense malaise, I prodded myself to shower and dress, the reward being that I would lie back down again. Battling the twins Ennui and Inertia, I ambled slowly from the bathroom to the bedroom window. It was ominously cloudy, unseasonably cool for a Florida winter day, portending more gloom and rain. “Keep moving!” barked the frustrated, annoying warden occuping my stultified mind. Obediently I grabbed a jacket and hobbled outside into the world.

I wearily set off down the worn familiar path through the December woods, thick with new growth magnolia, palmettos, cedar, beauty-berry and bald cypress, many draped with long, ragged, grey-green scarves of Spanish moss. Even though I am not able to smell it, I know the air is pungent with the moist scent of the river, decaying vegetation and nearby Atlantic Ocean. My breathing rapidly became labored and I grew more fatigued. Perhaps this walk wasn't such a good idea, maybe a bit too much too soon? Stopping for a moment to rest and decide whether I could actually make it out to the pier, I exhaled, looking up into the dull, early winter sun and overcast sky. Then I saw them.

About six feet off the path, hanging several feet above the ground were three bright oranges about the size of hen's eggs! I'd been on this trail hundreds of times and had never seen an orange tree, let alone the fruit. But there they were, smiling at me sunnily as they dangled from a single tall, wiry stalk set amongst a dense thicket of palmettos and cedar. I was amazed, perhaps even a bit awestruck. How did they do that, manage to survive in an environment that was surely not conducive to their kind? How did they get there, and what primordial instinct kept them reaching towards the sun, striving to flower and bear their meagre fruit? Trees aren't courageous, brave, willful, determined...or are they? I can't say for certain. Perhaps it is simply Nature's primary goal: Survival.

Focusing more deeply into the woods, I spied another orange tree, this one taller and only slightly more robust than the first. From it dangled around ten tiny oranges, some still in their green infancy. I was thrilled! Further exploration revealed several more spindly, but determined, orange trees fighting for survival, struggling for turf and access to the occluded sun.

Suddenly I had a burst of awareness. Three little oranges had given me a simple gift, one that I desperately needed that day - the inspiration and impetus to keep walking, moving forward, despite my current condition. They cheerfully removed me from my despondency and placed me gently in the present moment, reminding me to be grateful of the wonder surrounding me.

I made it all the way out to the pier, and home again. Who knew but for the Love of Three Oranges? 

December 27, 2023


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