Say the bells of St. Clements.

There was some orange picking to be done today, and so today I picked some oranges. I like being able to use a sentence in that form; it makes life seem a little less complicated. There’s something about picking oranges, too, that is natural and slow and easy and satisfying. The toughness of their rind, just beginning to turn from green to yellow; the way they break off easily from their stems when twisted; the smell of citrus from crushing their waxy leaves. I like oranges.

Earlier, I met a really beautiful Costa Rican woman at the bus station in San Jose. She was maybe in her mid-twenties, playing with her son of around two or three. She had lifted him up so that he could ride on her shoulders, and he was shrieking and giggling and swaying. Two of the other farm volunteers and I took the seats behind them on the bus, and the kid immediately started to show us his toy – a card with facts about Batman. Then his mother turned round to me and said, in English: “He looks more like you than me. He doesn’t look like me at all.” Her son was offering out the card again, so I asked him his name. “Me llamo Diaz.” I told her he was lovely, and that I could see the resemblance between them. She smiled, and tickled him. They did look like each other: the boy’s colouring was lighter, and he didn’t have her freckles, but their facial features were alike. They were completely immersed in each other, and their game.

Somehow that got me thinking of another bus ride, one that I’d expected to have forgotten by now, about two and a half months ago in Austin, Texas. There was a man I noticed straight away, because he looked like an older version of one of the employees at the ranch this summer. He had blonde hair and a beard, beginning to grey; wrinkles around his eyes; and was in a wheelchair. I wondered if he had ever been like my co-worker: whether he had smoked weed all hours of the day and night, an affable and sweet-natured dreamer of plans that he ambled towards with mild detachment. The bus stopped, the wheelchair ramp was lowered, and the man exited. It was raining and windy, and he was trying unsuccessfully to pull on one of those yellow, poncho-style rain jackets. The bus was at the terminal for a while, or maybe just a minute, and he was in full view of the passengers while obviously having some difficulty. I thought about going to help him. I was still thinking about it when we moved away, leaving him struggling on the pavement.

Orange and lemon trees look similar, from a distance. They thrive in warmth; the flowers are white, and the new fruits are green. The leaves are dark and rich in colour, and the skins of both fruits are heavy and textured. There is an abundance of each at the farm; but understandably it’s the oranges that are taken individually and at random, to cut open in the afternoon sun. The feeling is described in the lyrics of Lemon Tree, by Will Holt: ‘lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet / but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat’. On the other hand, of course, as the saying goes, ‘when life hands you lemons, make lemonade’. This is something we’ve had ample opportunity to put into literal practice over the last few weeks, but I don’t think that’s quite the intended meaning.

Okay, enough of that – there was definitely a guilt trip somewhere in that rambling mess. I meant to write that I might have learned something at Thanksgiving. Not about the Pilgrims – I couldn’t truthfully say I know anything more about the settlement of the United States, or the colonists’ relations with the Native Americans at Plymouth. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for paying attention to reasons to be thankful; oranges being as good as any. So, thank you, Thanksgiving. The festive season in Central America feels somewhat different, though. Dry season in Costa Rica is a world apart from rainy season, and brings with it an atmosphere that I’ve never experienced before. The change is not just in the (you got it) sudden lack of rain, but also a something in the air that takes a certain amount of adjusting to. Water acquires an urgency, the sky is permanently blue and a little dusty, and the days have a new unbroken-ness. The oranges and the lemons look brighter. It is very much time to move on. I’m getting restless – shocking, I know – and for the first time in a long while looking forward to something new. Peru sounds like a pretty good adventure, (I’m sure Paddington agrees), and the journey there even more so. Does anyone understand the changes to entry at the border to Panama?

*   *   *

There’s a quote that is not really relevant, but keeps coming into my head whenever I think of travelling, and meeting people along the way. I’ll leave it here.

“… take my advice, when you meet anything that is going to be Human and isn’t yet, or used to be Human once and isn’t now, or ought to be Human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet.” – C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.





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