Sunday, October 7, 2012

Fallen flowers and fruit, rising October

Detritus of the convergence of summer's slow end the promise of October: the periwinkle purple-blue of a bruised flower from the top of the climbing thunbergia, and maybe-green-maybe-yellow Meyer lemon, likewise fallen from its home. Soon enough, the beautiful purple of the vine's flowers will stand out against the bright golden hickory leaves of the tree that's served as its host these many years. Later still, the lemons will stay the course of citrus in northeastern Florida and come ripe around Christmastime. Tree and vine, fruit and flower: they have their own stories and thus their own shorthand in our visual vocabulary.

Meyer lemons have a subtle flavor, prized by chefs and cooks for their unique influence on recipes. My Dear Old Person and I will use as many as well can, consider the various and creative ways in which they might be used to good effect, and finally then press the lemons on our friends before finally taking big bags to the office to share. It may not be necessary to say that there has long been slight variance amongst our hoursehold in interpretation of "good effect". To me this implies some of the happy places in which our lemons have found themselves: honored ingredients in brine for holiday turkeys, infusing simple syrup with sharp citrus zest to step up Grownup Lemonade, sharing the billing with lavender in a favorite Meyer Lemon Cake with Lavender Cream. Sons and husbands interpret the definition to incude pitching, flinging, throwing, tossing and hurling lemons at targets, teams, trees, squirrels and each other. Philosophically I always win (about-to-be-thrown-lemons are quickly hidden when I appear); realistically, I hesitate to say how many lemon trees have sprung up around the perimeter of our yard, and how many heartlessly lopped off. And you can kinda see why. This picture shows the branches that have begun to droop, but doesn't give you a sense of the real size; the tree must be 20 feet tall. Most years we haven't a prayer of harvesting all of them. But its history is precious to us, as it was rescued from a 19th century citrus grove years ago, before the county turned the groves into the lovely Alpine Groves Park where it stands on a bluff overlooking at St. Johns River. Our lemon tree connects us to more than a century of citrus farming and a lifestyle whose echoes are still dear to us today.

The simple and abundant flowers of the thunbergia vine, which begins each spring threading its way up the brown stalks of its previous incarnation leftover from the previous winter's freeze, reaches even higher to the top of its hickory tree. It began life in a five gallon nursery can, a birthday gift from my friend Miss Inga. Its persistent efforts at flowering every year are an allegory for a friendship which has passed through the stresses and changes of every season of every year. It's part of the reason I do what I do today for a living; it's part of the reason I think the way I do; it has shaped the person I've grown into. It's a friendship that was dented and scarred by the banal evil and uncertain sanity of a boss and a workplace that was so much fun it was just possible to ignore the fundamental flaws of the business model and the responsible party. It's a friendship still precious to me, based more than ever on truth as we can see it, and generosity as we can share it. We've passed through the trials of caring for aging parents. We are passing through the soaring joys and heartaches of a new generation of children, issues of family rising with degrees of irony for both of us. And every year, there are those elegant little periwinkle-colored flowers to remind me, stretching for the blue October sky, contrasting against the golds of the leaves and the light.


  1. Life changes and grows like the lemon tree. A beautiful post. We have never tried to grow lemons out on the farm during my childhood. Or oranges. But we have peaches, strawberries, grapes, apples, pears, blueberries, and one plum tree that gave one piece of fruit every few years.

  2. Michelle, thoughts of your childhood always gather round me like ghost images of a friend's snapshot memories when I write about gardening (or in this case...what? orchard-ing?) Life does change and grow - so glad you're out there in our shared blog space, changing, growing and sharing it with me.


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