PARABLE OF THE ORANGE TREE
Dr. John White
I DREAMED I drove on a
Florida road, still and straight and empty. On either side were groves
of orange trees, so that as I turned to look at them from time to time,
line after line of trees stretched back endlessly from the roadtheir
boughs heavy with round yellow fruit. This was harvest time. My wonder
grew as the miles slipped by. How could the harvest be gathered?
Suddenly I realized
that for all of the hours I had driven (and this was how I knew I must
be dreaming) I had seen no other person. The groves were empty of
people. No other car had passed me. No houses were to be seen beside the
highway. I was along in a forest of orange trees.
But at last I saw some
orange pickers. Far from the highway, almost on the horizon, lost in the
vast wilderness of unpicked fruit, I could discern a tiny group of them
working steadily. And many miles later I saw another group. I could not
be sure, but I suspected that the earth beneath me was shaking with
silent laughter at the hopelessness of their task. Yet the pickers went
The sun had long passed
its zenith, and the shadows were lengthening when, without any warning,
I turned a corner of the road to see a notice “Leaving NEGLECTED
COUNTYEntering HOME COUNTY.” The contrast was so startling that I
scarcely had time to take in the notice. I had to slow down, for all at
once the traffic was heavy. People by the thousands swarmed the road and
crowded the sidewalks.
Even more startling was
the transformation in the orange groves. Orange groves were still there
with orange trees in abundance, but not, far from being silent and
empty, they were filled with the laughter and singing of multitudes of
people. Indeed it was the people we noticed rather than the trees.
I parked the car at the
roadside and mingled with the crowd. Smart gowns, neat shoes, showy
hats, expensive suites, and starched shirts made me a little conscious
of my work clothes. Everyone seemed so fresh and poised and happy.
“Is it a holiday?” I
asked a well-dressed woman with whom I fell in step.
She looked a little
startled for a moment, and then her face relaxed with a smile of
“Youre a stranger,
arent you?” she said, and before I could reply, “This is Orange Day.”
She must have seen a
puzzled look on my face, for she went on, “It is so good to turn aside
from ones labors and pick oranges one day of the week.”
“But dont you pick
oranges every day?” I asked her.
“One may pick oranges
at any time,” she said, “We should always be ready to pick oranges, but
Orange Day is the day which we devote especially to orange picking.”
I left her and made my
way farther among the trees. Most of the people were carrying a book
bound beautifully in leather, and edged and lettered in gold. I was able
to discern on the edge of one of them the words, “Orange Pickers
By and by, I noticed
around one of the orange trees that seats had been arranged, rising
upward in tires from the ground. The seats were almost fullbut, as I
approached the group, a smiling well-dressed gentleman shook my hand and
conducted me to a seat.
There, around the front
of the orange tree, I could see a number of people. One of them was
addressing all the people on the seats and, just as I got to my seat,
everyone rose to his feet and began to sing. The man next to me shared
with me his songbook. It was called “Songs of the Orange Groves.”
They sang for some
time, and the song leader waved his arms with a strange and frenzied
abandon, exhorting the people, in the intervals between the songs, to
sing more loudly.
I grew steadily more
“When do we start to
pick oranges?” I asked the man who had loaned me his book.
“Its not long now.” He
told me. “We like to get everyone warmed up first. Besides, we want to
make the oranges feel at home.” I thought he was jokingbut his face was
After a while, another
man took over form the song leader and, after reading two sentences from
his well-thumbed copy of the Orange Pickers Manual, began to make a
speech. I wasnt clear whether he was addressing the people or the
I glanced behind me and
saw a number of groups of people similar to our own group gathering
around an occasional tree and being addressed by other speakers. Some of
the trees had no one around them.
“Which trees do we pick
from?” I asked the man beside me. He did not seem to understand, so I
pointed to the trees round about.
“This is our tree,” he
said, pointing to the one we were gathered around.
“But there are too many
of us to pick from just one tree,” I protested. “Why, there are more
people than oranges!”
“But we dont pick
oranges,” the man explained. “We havent been called. Thats the Head
Orange Pickers job. Were here to support him. Besides we havent been
to college. You need to know how an orange thinks before you can pick it
successfullyorange psychology, you know. Most of these folk here,” he
went on, pointing to the congregation, “have never been to Manual
“Manual School,” I
whispered. “Whats that?”
“Its where they go to
study the Orange Pickers Manual,” my informant went on. “Its very hard
to understand. You need years of study before it makes sense.”
“I see,” I murmured. “I
had no idea that picking oranges was so difficult.”
The speaker at the
front was still making his speech. His face was red, and he appeared to
be indignant about something. So far as I could see there was rivalry
with some of the other “orange-picking” groups. But a moment later a
glow came on his face.
“But we are not
forsaken,” he said. “We have much to be thankful for. Last week we saw
THREE ORANGES BROUGHT INTO OUR BASKETS, and we are now completely
debt-free from the money we owed on the new cushion covers that grace
the seats you now sit on.”
“Isnt it wonderful?”
the man next to me murmured. I made no reply. I felt that something must
be profoundly wrong somewhere. All this seemed to be a very roundabout
way of picking oranges.
The speaker was
reaching a climax in his speech. The atmosphere seemed tense. Then with
a very dramatic gesture he reached two of the oranges, plucked them from
the branch and placed them in the basket at his feet. The applause was
“Do we start on the
picking now? I asked my informant.
“What in the world do
you think were doing?” he hissed. “What do you suppose this tremendous
effort has been made for? Theres more orange-picking talent in this
group than in the rest of Home County. Thousands of dollars have been
spent on the tree youre looking at.”
I apologized quickly.
“I wasnt being critical,” I said. “And Im sure the speaker must be a
very good orange pickerbut surely the rest of us could try. After all,
there are so many oranges that need picking. We each have a pair of
hands. And we could read the Manual.”
“When youve been in
the business as long as I have, youll realize that its not as simple
as that,” he replied. “There isnt time, for one thing. We have our work
to do, our families to care for, and our home to look after. We....”
But I wasnt listening.
Light was beginning to break on me. Whatever these people were, they
were not orange pickers. Orange picking was just a form of entertainment
for their weekends.
I tried one or two more
of the groups around the trees. Not all of them had such high academic
standards for orange pickers. Some held classes on orange picking. I
tried to tell them of the trees I had seen in Neglected County, but they
seemed to have little interest.
“We havent picked the
oranges here yet,” was their usual reply.
The sun was almost
setting in my dream and, growing tired of the noise and activity all
around me, I got in the car and began to drive back again along the road
I had come. Soon, all around me again were the vast and empty orange
But there were changes.
Some things had happened in my absence. Everywhere the ground was
littered with fallen fruit. And as I watched, it seemed that before my
eyes the trees began to rain oranges. Many of them lay rotting on the
I felt there was
something so strange about it all, and my bewilderment grew as I thought
of all the people in HOME COUNTY.
Then booming through
the trees there came a voice which said, “The harvest truly is
plenteous, but the laborers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the
harvest, that He will send forth labourers....”
And I awakenedfor it
was only a dream!