When I came back in with my face all red and almost numb, I removed the 3 layers of insulation I had wrapped myself in and hung it up.
And then I ate an orange. It’s December and I ate a ripe orange. I peeled it and the juice ran down my fingers. I broke apart the segments and enjoyed that sunshine-kissed, vitamin-C-containing, sweet pulpy goodness.
Ain’t civilization something? Here it’s winter, there’s snow on the ground, and I’m enjoying juicy citrus fruit. I’m doing something that, for almost all the preceding hundreds of thousands of years of human history, no one at this altitude and latitude (5,360 feet, 39th parallel), regardless of their amount of wealth, could have done. No English king or Japanese emperor or Russian czar around the year 1300 AD, for example, would have been able to eat a fresh orange in the winter unless they traveled to where they are grown — an epic journey at that time. This morning it was easy for me. And this particular orange was actually purchased in Kansas, where you can’t grow oranges. And just about any of you reading this — whether you live in Juneau, Alaska or Bangor, Maine — could have done the same thing. All you’d have to do is hand over a dollar or so.
In essence, an orange in winter constitutes wealth — a choice that would have been unthinkable a few hundred years ago.
As I’m eating this orange, the eave of a house along my street looks like this:
Our civilization is abundant with such privileges and pleasures — so much so that we hardly give them a second thought. Yet consider all the things that had to be accomplished for me to enjoy this fresh fruit this morning as the mercury bottomed out in the single digits — what had to be accomplished not only recently but for a long period beforehand.
My mind tends to like connecting divergent things, so I was thinking about eating this orange in the context of some comments I came across on Youtube. I’d been watching some of the posted videos from the movie Braveheart — in particular the “freedom” speech that William Wallace gives that inspires the Scots before the battle of Stirling Bridge (see an example of Wallace’s speech here) and in the comments from viewers, tucked in among the typical ungrammatical bickering and profanity, some guys said that they wished they were alive back then and could have taken part in that battle (on the side of the Scots, I assume), rather than being alive today, when there is nothing meaningful to do and people are just concerned about what they can buy. It occurred to me that, since we are essentially spiritual beings who live forever, most of us were alive back then and experienced those conditions, albeit in different bodies. And some of us did fight in that battle and in other battles, because we wanted freedom. The freedom to be, to do, to have, to create. And now we are enjoying the fruits of that labor.
I understand those guys who say they wished they could be there. They want something that will bring forth the best in themselves. But consider: there is always another level of freedom to seek, for as it is achieved at one level, new possibilities occur. For men, there are other ways to express one’s best besides battles. (Battles just get the bulk of the publicity. Movies aside, true fulfillment on the battlefield is elusive — which is what author Jon Krakauer, among others, found.) Battles are are not an end in themselves. What we want is to eat an orange in the winter.
What new things will we be enjoying a few hundred years from now?
There are still things around that can be used to inspire the best in ourselves. Pick something — whatever feels good to you — and pursue it.
And get yourself some great oranges and other citrus fruit from Florida or Texas this winter. You can get them from Pittman & Davis without leaving your house…