A Promise from God

How well do you know God’s covenant with Noah? At the end of Genesis 9, God makes this reassuring promise to Noah, Noah’s family, and the rest of us:

“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”

We have a large, old Washington Navel orange tree that reminds me of God’s promise every year. It blooms for about three weeks each spring, filling the air with a heavy, sweet perfume and attracting honeybees and wild bees from who knows how far away. Here is a short video, up close. The whole tree is buzzing with bees; turn up the audio so that you can hear the sound.

Honeybee on orange blossoms

We really don’t know the age of this tree; it was here when we bought this house many years ago. And we have learned a few things watching it bloom and bear fruit year after year. First, it seems to alternate the size of its crop from one year to the next. One year it will bear lots of medium-sized oranges and the following year it will be larger oranges but not as many. We don’t know why it does this, but the pattern of alternating years is usually reliable.

Next, we say usually reliable because unusual circumstances will disrupt the pattern. One winter we had freezing temperatures in the low 20s (or lower) for three nights in a row. The tree and its fruit have a large enough thermal mass (ask an engineer or scientist) that it shrugs off frost, and survives temperatures down into the upper 20s, but that freeze was much worse. A lot of California’s commercial orange crop froze that year, and we lost all of the fruit and most of the leaves from the tree. However, when spring came the tree leafed out, bloomed, and bore a new crop of oranges. Citrus trees can be amazingly resiliant.

We also learned not to judge the oranges by their color. A ripe, sweet orange might not be fully orange-colored, and an orange that is completely orange in color might not be very sweet. The key is in its tenderness. A tart or unripe orange will be hard to the touch, but as the orange ripens the skin starts to separate slightly from the flesh, such that the fruit starts to feel a little spongy to the touch. Sweetness and a little tenderness go together when it comes to oranges, lemons, and tangerines. Maybe that’s true for people, too.

Last but not least, this tree is tough and hard to kill. A year or two ago some pocket gophers started eating the root systems for this orange tree and for our Oro Blanco grapefruit tree. By the time we realized what was happening, they killed the grapefruit tree. This orange tree, though, had a very limited bloom last year, but survived the attack. And this year it is back to full vigor.

Toughness, sweetness, tenderness, and vigor — all gifts from God. And we thankfully enjoy the fruit.

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