We are currently dragging our boots through the dregs of winter. January, February and March are slow and cutting, offering nothing to anticipate, and the ubiquitous gray cloud looming overhead promises no silver lining. The holiday season is long over. The shiny new year is already tarnished. Each overcast Ithaca day dissolves into the next like a packet of Emergen-C powder.
If this season has one single redeeming quality, it is this: the mandarin.
In a season so gray and bitter, the mandarin, which reaches its peak ripeness in winter and early spring, is a vivid, juicy pop of softness and succulence. Tucked away under a bright, glossy peel are delightfully chubby little segments, bursting with sweetness. Mandarins in their peak season are so delicious, so plump, so tender, one can almost forget about the harsh sting and the monotonous numbness of late winter. Ithaca’s dreary, icy backdrop only heightens the brilliance of the perfectly pudgy pocket-sized fruit.
Most days, I find myself mechanically schlepping through sludge from class to class. I keep my head down, hood up and earbuds in. I think of this season as something I have to “get through” — a tedious routine, an icy passage that I just have to traverse. But after March, the supple segments, exploding with refreshing nectar, become sour and shriveled. You peel away the rind to reveal a diluted, tart and underwhelming version of the original fruit.
A ripe mandarin is one of those little things that remind us to recognize where we are now (no matter how bleak or monotonous) as a place that we exist within, rather than pass through. In a couple months, whilst you squish a wilted segment of a mediocre mandarin between your teeth, you’ll reminisce that stinging, overcast Ithaca day in late winter when you awkwardly wedged yourself between two parka-clad strangers on the TCAT and ate a mandarin so ripe, so nectarous and so sweet, that it actually blew your mind. You’ll realize you spent those few months robotically trudging through the motions in impatient anticipation of spring and completely neglected to appreciate the juicy joys of the season.
The January, February, March stretch is the most brutal time of year, but mandarin season is fleeting. Take advantage of it now.