The single gloves I find in our orchards mostly have rough-out leather palms and long wrist gauntlets and sometimes tags: “Hecho en Mexico,” “Lobo, Ltd.” and “for citrus picking.” Citrus trees have thorns that would make a rose bush weep green with envy, so if you are someone whose livelihood depends on pushing your arm shoulder deep into a citrus tree to pull out ripe lemons and mandarins, you need some kick-ass protection.
I have seen canvas sleeves worn over the gauntlets of the leather gloves for more protection–like half-chaps, but for arms. It is good to have the right tool for the job, and these guys are pros. I find them–the sleeves, I mean–out here too, but unlike the gloves, it is clear why they got left behind. By the time I find them they are usually torn-to-shreds useless.
It is often hot out here. Imagine being able to just take off a layer of clothing because it’s hot.
Sometimes I find gloves like the ones in the gardening aisles of Home Depot or Lowe’s–just woven polyester with the palms and fingers dipped in latex. Rookies. Not even up to roses. Other ones are just colorless woven liners of some kind, hard to see, especially in the early gray; they take on the color of earth and flatten themselves beneath notice. There are thin ones–blue, like water and green, like spring–just like the ones my dental hygienist wears to put all his fingers into my mouth. People who work with farm chemicals must now wear these too, along with masks, goggles, rubber boots and Tyvek suits. But not even all of that will protect you from ICE.
Some gloves wave “Hello” from the ground, open-handed, just like sunflowers. I found rain pooled in the palm of one the other morning. Others have completely lost their grip—the slow uncurling of fingers that once clasped tools, or plucked lemons, or drove equipment, or helped their wearers ascend precarious ladders. Some gloves are simply hunched, palm down, rather like they are recoiling from a gut punch. And then there are those who just “do not go gently” at all. They claim their ground with a middle finger in spite of the snails that colonize and slime them. I found just a finger, once.
Each has unclasped the hand that brought it here, or maybe it was the other way around. They are like the other half of my orphan socks, mostly useless until there-is-too-much-laundry-to-do-and-I-am-late-to-work. Do their hands hold on to their mates? Are they handy in a pinch?
I just look at them. They persist for a while. They become fingerposts in my labyrinth of farming. Most of the leather ones get chewed on by the other residents that find them too, or shredded once yearly into the orchard duff with the prunings. I don’t chew them or move them or pick them up. They are not trash.
All of us wander around here–not together–but lapped like shingles to make a tight roof. A golden eagle flew overhead yesterday. This morning a coyote fell into the pool.
Ellen Birrell is an artist and lemon farmer in Ventura County California. She holds an MFA in Photography, has taught at CalArts since 1991, and is one of the co-founders and editors at X-TRA (x-traonline.org), a quarterly journal of the Visual Arts, published since 1997 in Los Angeles and distributed internationally.
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