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7. Writing About a Process--Peeling an Orange
By Gretchen Legler
Genre: Non-fiction
Year: 1997 Category: Student Examples

I hadn't seen an orange in three weeks, maybe four. Hadn't seen a banana. No grapes. No kiwi fruit. Had been craving apples. But the time for fresh fruit was long gone. Some of what Antarcticans call "freshies" had come in on the flights to McMurdo in mid and late August, but by the end of the second week of September they were all gone. I'd done what everyone else had done, taken an extra orange or apple at breakfast and lunch, to carry in my pocket, a sort of promise that for at least another day, after everything ran out, I'd be able to taste that juicy, sour sweetness, feel that crunch in my mouth. Then, even my cache was empty, and we just all had to wait. McMurdo's head food service person, Mark Eisinger, says that the amount of fresh food available for each person is carefully calculated. Fresh food is so heavy he says that it takes enormous amounts of money to get it from New Zealand to McMurdo. During the winter, from the time the last flight leaves McMurdo in February to when the first flights arrive in late August, there is NO fresh food, except greens and some vegetables from McMurdo's hydroponic greenhouse. In the summer, the period called "main body," which starts at the beginning of October and goes until late January, Mark says that he gets 4,700 pounds of fresh food, net, per week. That averages out to 4.7 pounds of fresh food per person. And that adds up to about 2 cups of yogurt, a handful of grapes, a banana and an apple per week. Not much. I wouldn't call my hankering after an orange or a banana or an apple a desire, exactly, or a wish, or a yearning. But I would say that I NOTICED the absence of fresh fruit, noticed it with a warm, full kind of feeling that made me, perhaps for the first time in my life, appreciate how incredible it is that in Alaska, for instance, or, say, ANTARCTICA! there is fresh fruit, ever. Then one afternoon, sometime in the first week of October, a friend brought me an orange. I had been sick in bed with what is aptly named "The McMurdo Crud." It is the kind of sick that once one person gets it, everyone gets it, making you a little less miserable--because you know everyone else is as sick as you. So, she brought me an orange. And for a while I just held it. It was a small orange, smaller than a baseball. It fit perfectly in the palm of my hand. I held it and wrapped my fingers up around it, feeling the perfect roundness of it. Then I smelled it, skin and all, and smelled that thick acid of the dense, lightly pocked outside of it. For a long time I held it to my nose. Then I took my thumb, and curving it inward near the top, pushed hard with my thumbnail and peeled off the tiniest bit of skin. Juice jumped into the air, as if it couldn't wait to get out. And already my thumbnail was full of rind and my finger oily with the tangy citrus oil. This was a tight little orange, so the skin came off in small bits, which I had to tug away with some effort. Piece by piece they came off, filling the room with the smell of somewhere far away. I piled the pieces of skin on top of one another, stacking them up into a tiny orange tower in my lap. Finally, without any of its skin, I considered the orange for a moment, deciding which end I would try to peel away first, breaking the orange into halves, then sections. Each section of this tough, juicy little orange came away hard from its mate. Some I had to simply put into my mouth by twos. When I did that, the bite was a little too big, and orange juice would squish out the side of my mouth and roll down onto my shirt. But I didn't care if I made a mess. My mouth was full of juice, fresh juice, not sweet and not sour, but light on my tongue, the freshest thing I'd tasted in weeks.


In this piece I tried to write about the process of peeling an orange. I related this process to this place by adding a few paragraphs in the beginning that explained why it was so unusual for me to have an orange, and why it was so important to me. I tried to stick very close to the exact process of holding the orange, peeling it, then eating it.

Writing Exercise:

Think of some kind of process that is related to a place that you are familiar with or love. Think, for instance, of the process of setting a net, of hunting, of picking berries--any kind of activity that is unique to the place you want to write about. Just describe the process. Don't worry if you think the process is boring. The trick is to learn how to write about this kind of detail.
Copyright 11.24.97

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