There is a tree in the town park about which I often write. Tall and singular, it is an easy object of affection. Meanwhile, another tree, a tiny one in a clay pot, has been growing lemons outside our back door. This week it has given forth a basket of perfect Meyer lemons. Have I neglected this selfless little citrus?
I fear that I have. The other day its basket simply appeared on the kitchen table, the second significant winter still life in as many days. It turns out that my wife has been nurturing the tree all year, waiting for this moment. At this rate I'll have a show's worth of photographs in a month. Sometimes these things just happen.
Citrus trees buck the trend and bear fruit in winter, a minor miracle. My New Jersey upbringing conditioned me to thinking of fruit and color in summer and bare twigs in winter. I would read about citrus trees in grammar-school geography books during our long winters. In our land of apple, peach and cherry trees, citrus groves were as exotic as camels in the desert.
On our small radio in our small kitchen we'd hear the news reports after a run of Sinatra songs. Those reports, during winter cold snaps, included stories of worried, Florida citrus growers. We'd hear of smudge pots in the groves, burning all night to ward off frost. I think New Yorkers secretly liked knowing that it got cold in the Sunshine State, regardless of the price of orange juice.
"Children growing up in Florida have never seen snow!" my second-grade teacher proclaimed one day. This seemed impossible. So too was it impossible to think of trees growing fruit in winter, but that's what geography books were for, dreaming of the faraway places where such things happened.
Staring into my bowl of lemons I come back from the winters of my youth—a rambling stream-of-consciousness evoked from an overflowing basket on the kitchen table. I look around and realize that I, myself, now live in an exotic land of winter fruit.
I stare at the bowl, give thanks to the little tree in the clay pot, set up my tripod and make a photograph.