From the fruit bowl on the counter, I pull out a naval orange. It fits comfortably in my hand and I give it a little squeeze to sense the firmness. It is as if I have plucked the rising sun from the sky. The color is radiant as I rinse the pebbly skin under the water at the kitchen sink. With my fingers I gently rub the bumps and indentations in hopes of sending any lingering pesticides down the drain with the gurgling water. The round shape is interrupted at the bottom where the folds bunch the skin in a disorganized jumble of orange, specks of green and brown. If it didn’t have this imperfect outside, it’s appearance would not be so intriguing. It’s a connection, like the human naval, with it’s past. I know that under the external bumps lie little baby-like wedges of delicious fruit. This orange came from a grafted tree, not from a seed. And so even though it has no seeds in it’s own belly, it carries children with it. It is a childless mother, like me.
Standing at the kitchen sink peeling an orange in one continuous curl is something I watched my mother do time after time. So I reach for a paring knife and begin the ritual I observed my mother doing. I insert the paring knife, and turn the orange around and around until the rind falls away in a spiral whirl.
It is a meditation that requires some precision and some self-control. As the knife blade pierces the protective skin my hand is spritzed with the fragrant orange nectar. The thin orange outer layer of skin is cushioned by a thicker cream color layer. That is soluble fiber and I plan to eat most of that with the orange pulp. The smell of sweet orange is powerful and I quickly forget everything except that I want to separate the sections and pop them into my mouth.
When I make the final twist, the orange skin drops into the stainless steel sink in a single piece, empty as an abandoned snake skin. I look out of the window that is over the sink, the way my mother always did at the end of the ritual. I eat the orange slowly, the taste is milder than the scent and it has a way of making my mouth feel clean and my belly satisfied. Gazing out the window at the mottled sunshine, I can see the jagged burnt sienna bark of the loblolly pine, the ground cover of crackling brown oak leaves and the fence that marks the beginning of my neighbor’s yard. A pale yellow butterfly flits in-between the trees; it has it’s own spiral dance.
Reflecting on the circularity of life, round and round without returning to the same spot again, I scoop out the orange peel and drop it into the compost bucket.
3 thoughts on “Orange Helix”
Hi, Linda: Love this piece. The phrase “childless mother” I find especially poignant. I know you are mother to many, especially young women who look to you for guidance and encouragement in the face of serious health issues.So wonderful that you can find this depth of perception in the simple act of peeling and eating an orange.
Such elegance in the simple act of peeling an orange. I'm always amazed at how focusing on a detail pulls up and out unexpected insights. Lovely writing. RB
I peeled an orange (not completely successful) like your mom and thought about her and my Grammy Stella who used to peel an apple so the skin was so thin you could see through it … all in a circle too. 🙂
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