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Posts Tagged ‘Cambridge’

komorebi harvard yard tree sky

First, the leaving.

I knew it was a possibility for a long time: the job I signed on for, back in 2016, is of a type that comes up for renewal each fiscal year. This was my fourth job at Harvard, and I’d already weathered a layoff and two temp gigs – so I wasn’t all that surprised to learn, in April, that I’d have to leave at the end of June.

Even at Harvard, few things are set in stone: my time there has seen massive internal shifts, many of them for the better. This storied place, ancient and rooted, is also a place of constant movement and change.

I did my best, this spring, to soak up all the rhythms and traditions I love there: Morning PrayersCommencement, my daily walks to Darwin’s. I had about a thousand coffee dates and sent out so many emails telling people: This chapter is ending. I don’t know what’s next.

On my last day, I walked to Darwin’s mid-morning, then went back later for lunch with a girlfriend. We sat outside, leaning against the plate-glass windows, eating sandwiches and talking about change. She had just started a new job, and I had no idea what the summer held. We agreed: change is hard, even when it’s exciting. And uncertainty is a beast.

Later that afternoon, I slipped away for a walk with a friend, and then came back to the office for my own bittersweet Mary Tyler Moore moment: packing up my bags and switching off the lights for the last time.

Of course, as a friend reminded me, Harvard isn’t going anywhere: it has survived for nearly four centuries, and if I want to go back there sometime, there’s a good chance I can. But this chapter, this particular stretch of five years where the Square became my daily ground, has ended.

I don’t have a word to sum it up neatly: like so much of life, it is full of contradictions. But somewhere between all those emails and meetings, between the headlines and the phone calls and the student interviews, between Tuesdays at the farmers’ market and Thursday mornings on the sixth floor, between frequent trips to the florist and every single day at Darwin’s, Harvard Square became my home.

I’ve landed in a good place across the river. But I left part of my heart in Cambridge, and for now, I’m making a point to get back there as often as I can.

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dahlia purple stripe

Happiness is: dahlias in the morning light (courtesy of my beloved florist, of course). And settling in for a morning at Darwin’s, my very favorite place.

darwins scone stripe journal coffee shop table

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blue-sky-memorial-hall

Yesterday was a changeable day: morning haze, bright sunshine, an afternoon downpour. I spent it crisscrossing the Square, and snapped this photo walking by Memorial Hall after the rain.

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darwins mug heart table striped journal

When I thought about the shape of this freelancing summer, I knew one thing: it would still include lots of time in Cambridge.

I’ve been working on several projects for Harvard, which means I sometimes come into the Square for meetings and research. But, more simply and importantly: this is my neighborhood. I love it here in Cambridge, and whether I’m sending out resumes, writing book reviews or meeting friends, there’s no place I’d rather be than Harvard Square.

Tuesdays this summer, in particular, have fallen into a routine I’m loving.

First: a morning with my journal and laptop at Darwin’s, drinking tea, writing and answering emails. Sometimes I meet up with a friend and we co-work for a while, taking breaks to chat. Other times it’s just me: elbows on a green table, sunshine pouring through the plate-glass window at my back.

The sunset walls, the cheerful baristas, strong Earl Grey or ginger peach in a deep mug and a sweet-tart lemon scone: all of these are deeply familiar delights. I nod to a couple of other regulars, and either ease or dive into the work, depending on the day.

Around lunchtime, I close my laptop and head to the Harvard farmers’ market, where I get lunch from Amanda: homemade Texas tamales, elotes (street corn) slathered with garlicky sauce and spices, and a container of salsa roja to take home to my husband.

tamales elotes lunch

I find a shady spot, if I can, to perch and eat my lunch. The people-watching at the market is always a treat, and then I go pick up the week’s fruit from my favorite produce guys. I loved chatting with them about the World Cup earlier in the summer, but we also talk about the weather, the market or whatever comes to mind.

I run a few errands or go work at the library for a while, then frequently meet a friend in the afternoon for (iced) tea. Inevitably, I’ll run into another few folks I know (or see some of my favorite baristas), and sometimes I go by the florist to pick up a bouquet for my kitchen table.

Making the rounds, seeing my people, walking the familiar streets I love: this is my place. And on Tuesdays, especially, I get to glory in it.

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crocuses rock light flowerbed

It begins with the snowdrops: shy and white, pushing their way through the frozen ground when the snow melts just enough to let them through. Then the crocuses – those tiny, fierce fighters, deep purple and lavender and sometimes bright gold.

yellow crocuses open

The forsythia come next – “fountains of pale gold,” as L.M. Montgomery wrote – then the daffodils, slender green stems lit like candles at the ends. The hellebores arrive around the same time, creamy white petals giving way to earthy green. Then the hyacinths and scilla, carpeting the still-bare ground with blue and pink and white.

scilla flowers blue

The green stems of tulips start to uncurl, and they bob their vivid heads in flowerbeds and gardens. At nearly the same time, the magnolias unfurl their lipstick-pink buds, and the lilacs appear, filling the air with their delicate scent. The lilies of the valley hide under their broad green leaves, till suddenly – seemingly all at once – the tiny bells burst forth.

lily of the valley flowers

For several years now, I’ve been marking time by flowers here in Cambridge.

It’s both a reliable pleasure and an unexpected delight: every winter I start watching, paying particular attention to a few spots I know well. The air smells like snow and then damp earth and, eventually, the tang of mulch; the trees fuzz over with buds and then leaf out seemingly overnight. Every year I wonder if it will really happen again. And every year, somehow, it does.

red white striped tulips

The season unfolds in a slightly different rhythm at my beloved florist’s shop: amaryllis and anemones, daffodils and ranunculus, buckets of vivid tulips and early peonies. The lilies and sunflowers have already appeared there, though they’re not blooming in the flowerbeds yet. And this year, I’ve been growing flowers in my kitchen: first paperwhites, then geraniums.

wisteria light

Outside, right now, there are wisteria and columbines, the last of the cherry blossoms and dogwoods, the first spikes of tall purple iris. I’ve spotted a couple of budding yellow roses. And all my friends who garden seem to be on peony watch, according to Instagram.

There are many ways to mark time, of course: the alarm clock, the calendar with its dates and boxes, the annual rhythm of the academic year. We are heading into summer, which means the slow season for classes and events, though some things never stop entirely. But as we wrap up another semester, the outdoors is bursting into glorious green life: bellflowers and dandelions, azaleas and wild geraniums, rhododendrons and violets and so many others I can’t name.

violets

It’s almost too much, this abundance, after months of barren brown earth and bare branches. My eyes can hardly take it in; my soul feels sated, full of color, and at the same time it craves more. It is both ephemeral and lasting, this pageant of color and light: it changes daily, weekly, but it makes a living tapestry that endures.

pink azalea flowers

By now it’s a rhythm that lives deep in my body, my fingers thrumming with the awareness of new life, new growth. It is at once a universal and a particular kind of glory: it happens every spring, but it’s still a wonder.

Soon the calendar will flip to June, and the lilacs will go over, to be replaced by roses and peonies, rhododendron and mountain laurel. I’ll be watching for columbines in every color, for iris in purple and white and gold, for poppies and jasmine and honeysuckle, for other delights I don’t know about yet.

You can’t schedule meetings by flowers, maybe, but I’ll be happily marking time by them, all summer long.

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harvard widener library commencement banners

We celebrated Commencement at Harvard last week: my sixth one, the university’s 367th. It was – it always is – a kaleidoscope of moments and light, words and memories.

It was crimson hoods and black robes flapping, piles and piles of special editions of the Harvard Gazette, where I worked briefly during Commencement season, two years ago. It was spring breezes and blue skies, exuberant music by the Harvard band and choir, thousands of folding chairs and dozens of speeches.

I spent most of the morning in the Yard, the epicenter of the festivities, and it was overstimulating and glorious. I stood near the stage with my colleagues Deb and Christina, press passes around our necks. We listened and applauded, soaking it all in.

harvard yard banners trees commencement

Commencement, this year, smelled like lilacs, especially the waist-high versions that bloomed out just in time for the day. It sounded like marching feet and raucous cheers, vuvuzelas and ringing church bells, applause from so many proud parents and friends. It tasted like chai (of course) from Darwin’s, sipped standing in the Yard as we listened to the student orators, and like veggie wraps and guacamole, eaten sitting by a sixth-floor office window while we rested our tired feet.

This year, the road to Commencement has felt long and difficult. It has been a tough time to be doing communications work at a school of government, even (or especially) at Harvard. We have weathered serious internal changes in our staff and leadership, and decision-making processes have shifted, sometimes faster than I could keep up with.

Our work here is informed by the political climate in the nation and the world, and it’s been a wild ride lately in both places. The work of keeping on, of fulfilling our daily tasks and responsibilities, has felt sometimes futile and often overwhelming. I’ve wondered many times whether and how it can possibly matter.

And yet.

I spent a glorious hour sitting in the HKS café last month, listening to a Somali-Canadian student speak about her hopes for nation-building and the good questions she plans to take back to Mogadishu. On Commencement day, I listened to Pete Davis, the graduate student speaker, urge us to commit to showing up and slaying the dragons of boredom and distraction, to do the slow work of building a better world. I listened, that afternoon, to Drew Gilpin Faust speak about hope in her final Commencement address as Harvard’s president, nudging her audience toward wisdom and goodness. I remembered, for a moment, what this place can be.

I’ll be searching out my own new beginning (again) this summer. My current job is ending, so I’ll be looking for a new position where I can write and edit and tell good stories. I don’t know yet where that will be, though I hope it’s at Harvard.

Because after five years, this place is home. It is a challenge and a community, an inspiration and sometimes a source of exasperation. It is both a big, complicated, many-headed beast and a small New England town. It has tremendous potential to do some good in the world, and it is full of bright, thoughtful, curious people who help make that happen.

As our graduates begin their next chapters (mostly) outside of Cambridge, I hope I get the chance to write another one here.

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crocus-sprouts

The crocuses in that triangular bed across from my beloved Darwin’s.

daffodil-sprouts

The daffodils tucked up against brick walls in Cambridge flowerbeds.

witch hazel bloom cambridge

The witch hazel in front of the Harvard Art Museums.

snowdrops dew flowers

Snowdrops tangled in the ground cover on a side street near my office.

Something’s coming, Tony sings in West Side Story. Something good, if I can wait. 

I’m watching and hoping for spring, which isn’t quite here yet. (We’re just knocking on March, after all.) But these sprouts are giving me joy while I wait.

tulip sprouts flowerbed

Even the tulips – a little early – are joining in the show.

What’s sprouting where you are?

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