It was our first winter in Arizona, 1995. I basked in the balmy weather unlike the harsh Midwest cold that we had left behind. As I drove to work each morning in March, windows open, a heavy perfume overwhelmed me. “What is that smell?” I asked my coworkers. “Orange blossoms,” they replied.
That afternoon I looked closely at our orange tree, still laden with fruit. Yes, there were blossoms. How had I missed this anomaly? I was accustomed to fruit trees such as apple or cherry which blossom in the spring producing fruit weeks later. Almost 30 years in Arizona, I still marvel at this tree that begins the reproduction cycle before the fruit is completely harvested.
When we first settled outside of Phoenix, orchards were abundant. Although many people complained of the fragrance kick-starting allergies, I have never tired of that fresh sweet smell reminding me to get out and finish picking. Whereas the flowers of the cherries and apples signal the awaited coming of summer, the orange blossoms in Arizona signal the end of winter, and the arrival of the dreaded heat.
The orchards are gone, replaced by residential and business development. The trees are now found only in residents’ yards or as ornaments on a few public streets. Unpicked fruit rots, attracting rats, so people are discouraged from planting citrus unless they intend to use it.
Luckily, my shed is situated so that I can enjoy the end of the season through my window. A few orange orbs add color to my view while their pebbled texture affirms their ripeness. This year the fruit of the tangelo is juicy and sweet. We caution guests to peel them into a bowl to avoid a sticky mess.
On the other side of the shed, a blood orange tree clutches a few pieces of fruit. There are no blossoms. That may mean limited fruit next year. Although the tree isn’t robust and the fruit lacks juice, it continues to produce enough for ED to make marmalade and chocolate orange slices.
The sweet scent of citrus blossoms, the heady smell of rain, the bitter stench of dirt. These are the dominant aromas of Arizona. These are the aromas of my home.