In one of her poems, the writer Katherine Riegel notes peonies and sweet peas in a list of things she would like to grow in her garden.
Lately, I have gotten into the hobby of cultivating a list of my own: broccoli, purple kohlrabi, and the first thing I ever attempted to grow—oranges.
Orange fruits grow best in tropical and subtropical climates. Theoretically, all it needs is water, a lot of sunlight, and, in my case, a pair of functional green thumbs. If you were bestowed with a great gift for horticulture, you’d be enjoying its fruit in a few years’ time.
Of all things, why had I chosen oranges?
Maybe it was the way it reminded me of the sun, the shine of it a mirage of the sticky, sweat-drenched afternoons that marked our youth. Or perhaps it was how this delicate perennial fruit was made to be shared, its sweetness lingering long after it had been peeled by a loved one.
When trying to grow oranges from seeds, the first thing they tell you to do is remove the thick seed coat in order to make way for the tender sprout to emerge. Doing so would speed up the germination process.
Looking back now, I wonder if that had been my first mistake—placing the weight of my hurried expectations on a plant that was hell-bent on taking its time.
I am now twenty-two, and as is the case of being in your early twenties, you find yourself in the slightly-awkward-melancholic disbelief that you are now a full-blown adult. Some days, it can feel like you’re still learning to walk with your new adult feet.
Time stops feeling like a concept.
Instead, it is a tension in the air, a sensation capable of contracting and expanding into the realms of what is infinite but few. We loop it carefully around people, places, and memories to maintain our hold on the things we love. Or to make sure that the things we love don’t lose their hold on us.
In Paul Schrader’s recent film, his protagonist describes gardening as a belief in the future.
We plant with the hope that our world will not collapse in on itself in the morning. And in the act of nurturing a seed, the seed nurtures us back—nurtures in us a reverence for the daily task of burying our hands in the dirt and doing the work.
Most of all, planting takes a whole lot of faith.
Faith that things will bloom into place in their own time and faith that teaches us a bit of rain may not be such a bad thing. Faith in the God that reveals Himself in the small pockets of creation—the susurrus of trees, and the bearing of each other’s burden.
Unfortunately, none of my orange seedlings survived.
Perhaps there is a lesson there, too. A lesson in loss taught by the washing over of a grief that has softened over time. It rises from the breath of abandoned spaces, unoccupied rooms, and empty flower beds.
To finally accept the losing as part of the living, I guess, is to say that all things must die a little in order to take on a new life.
On the table before me, my mother places freshly-bought oranges in her favorite glass bowl. She asks if I’d like one and starts peeling before I can answer. “They’re sweet,” she says.
I smile, grateful for the simple revelation that after everything that has happened, you can always try again.