For those of you scoring at home (and even if you’re alone), one of the myriad reasons I fled Iowa for California was my most-hated, six-letter word:
After four years in Iowa City, I wanted nothing more to do with scraping ice off windshields, shoveling snow out of my driveway, shoveling more snow out of my driveway, scraping ice off the inside of my windows while hurtling up the highway to Cedar Rapids…you get the picture.
Don’t worry. This is not a tale of woe about how the temperatures in Oakland dropped below 68 degrees, and I had to put on a puffy vest, and waah, waah, waah. No. This is a totally different tale of woe.
See, I’ve recently (as in, a a few weeks ago) moved into a house with The Unicorn. Among the selling (or, well, renting) points about this house, besides the fact that it does not have any shared walls with any other dwelling places, was that is has fruit trees in the back yard. There’s definitely a giant Eureka lemon tree, and then there are two other trees bearing some sort of citrus that may be limes, may be Meyer lemons, who knows. Regardless, this sparked a vision for me. A vision of many varieties of -ades served over ice (with or without gin and/or vodka) on our back patio. A vision of endless variations of citrus vinaigrettes over salads made from baby lettuces purchased at the local farmers market. A vision of jar after jar of preserved lemons (despite the fact that I haven’t even used all the ones I made from lemons gleaned from a friend in a prior year). Lemon curd. Lemon bars. Lemon meringue pie.
I had a dream.
Then, as we were moving into the house, a cold snap hit California. Those of you in the middle of the country, or in Alaska, or in, well, almost everywhere else would scoff at our frosty blast. We were getting down to freezing at the coldest part of the night. It’s a California-world problem, but it led me to fear for the health of our citrus.
I asked friends for advice, and got plenty of ideas. Wrap the trees in sheets! String old-school Christmas lights up the trunks and leave them on all night!
“You know,” my father said on the phone, “orchard farmers who are concerned about frozen trees spray them with water so the water freezes and protects the fruit inside the ice casing.”
I did know this, actually, because in a prior life, as a reporter for the Frederick News-Post, I was assigned a story about an unexpected freeze threatening the area’s apple farmers. I needed art for the story, so I assigned a photographer to go shoot photos of the ice-encased apple blossoms and branches right at dawn. Farmers generally do the spraying as close to the freezing point of the night so the water freezes up instantly as possible, so they’re often out all night with hoses and sprayers and fans, and the ice melts off once the sun warms up the air again.
The photographer stormed into the newsroom waving the assignment slip. “Genie Gratto! What the hell is this assignment? Why do I have to be somewhere at 5:30 in the morning?”
He got a beautiful shot, but I owed him a hell of a lot of beer afterward.
“Dad, I’m not getting up in the middle of the night to stand out in the freezing cold spraying water on my citrus trees,” I said. “I have my limits.”
The cold snap, it passed. We’re back to balmy days and nights in the 40s. The citrus is out of harm’s way. And I’m ready to make some lemonade.