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Posts Tagged ‘renewal’

The temperatures are slowly rising. The skies are losing the cloud-streaked pallor of winter, giving way on some days to a bold, nearly electric blue. The crocuses are out in full force; the trees are budding; the rhubarb and asparagus are out at the grocery store. On my lunchtime walks, the earthy tang of mulch hangs in the air. I even spotted a rabbit in Harvard Square last week.

And I’m feeling homesick for the mountains of northern New Mexico.

hermits peak blue haven new mexico

Eight years ago, after two semesters fraught with loss, I packed my car with a sleeping bag, pillow, a few books and two weeks’ worth of jeans and T-shirts, and headed west across the Texas plains. I drove past my hometown, crossed the New Mexico border, then wound down a long grey highway bordered with scrub and cacti, then with pine, shadowed in the distance by mesas. I was heading for a camp tucked into a valley under the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where I had signed up for a writing workshop with a former English professor who now ran the camp.

For two weeks, we lived out of cell phone range, hiking and writing and reading each other’s work, sharing meals at a long narrow table in the dining hall. I spent hours walking around the camp alone, inhaling the scent of sun on dried pine needles and the sharp, crisp mountain air. I laughed as Jake, the resident golden retriever, bounded into the river and out again, shaking himself dry, wiggling head to toe with joy. In the late afternoons I stretched out on the wooden porch of the old dining hall, with my journal and a bottle of water, eating M&Ms and writing poetry, soaking up the sunshine and the quiet.

We read Wendell Berry and William Stafford, and I spent a Sunday afternoon sitting in the doorway of the laundry room, reading Kathleen Norris and listening to the rain. Sometimes Scott, the director, would pull out his guitar and share one of the songs he was writing. His words, and the words of these other writers, are bound up with the long hikes and the bowls of hot vegetable stew, and the moments at night when I crossed the short distance from the cabin to the shower house, and paused to look up at the indigo sky pierced with stars.

hermits peak group new mexico hike

I did not solve my problems, nor completely jettison my worry and grief, during those weeks spent so far away from my usual life. But I began to imagine what renewal might look like. I began to believe, after a year of struggle and loss, that I could move forward with peace and steadiness, drawn somehow from the quiet strength of the mountains and hills. I discovered, again, the ability of words to help work through the sorrows we can’t explain, and I knew the deep joy of talking about words with people who also believed in their power.

Every spring, when the air begins to soften and the sky turns toward the vast, jarring blue of early summer, when the life that has lain dormant all winter under the earth begins to quicken, I long to pack up my car again and head for that valley. My soul aches for the deep quiet of those afternoons on the porch and the camaraderie of evenings around the campfire. My ears strain to hear the sound of Scott’s guitar. My whole being remembers, and for a few moments, I am back there in the mountains, where my soul found rest.

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I started spring-cleaning my closet the other day, weeding out a few items I haven’t worn all winter. While I was at it, I rearranged the items I’m keeping, organizing the tops by color.

And I realized: the number of my gray tops (cardigans, long-sleeved tees and 3/4 sleeve tops) roughly equals the number of my red, pink, orange/coral and yellow tops, put together. I don’t think of myself as a “neutrals” person, but it turns out the color spectrum in my closet leans heavily toward gray and black.

Granted, I own lots of colorful scarves, which pair well with neutral tops – ditto for a few brightly hued skirts, which I’m hoping to pull out soon. But I think there’s another reason, one that sounds depressingly familiar: Neutrals are safe. They go with almost everything.

There’s nothing wrong with safety per se, and I admit it’s nice to have some no-brainer options for getting dressed in the morning. And black can look sophisticated, and gray can be cozy or chic.

But these colors reflect a larger trend in my life of late. I’m still feeling raw and uncertain, still longing to feel settled in this new Boston life, to feel at home in my job and my neighborhood, instead of (still) feeling like the new kid. (It strikes me, as I said to my husband recently, that nearly all the people we call friends up here are fellow transplants, whether they’ve been here eight months, like us, or several years. They all remember what it feels like to be strangers here.)

On mornings when I feel tender and vulnerable, bold color is a risk I’m reluctant to take. I reach for the neutrals, maybe throwing on a vivid scarf, but keeping 90 percent of my body safely covered with black or gray or brown or dark denim.

But as we continue to flirt with spring – whether the day is sunny with soft breezes or grey and rainy, requiring (plaid) wellies and a mackintosh – I find myself reaching for my brighter pieces. That yellow top I found on clearance in February. That melon-colored scarf, that spring-green sweater, that pink v-neck top, that flowered umbrella.

The bright colors may not be safe, but they give my spirit (not to mention my complexion) a boost. Maybe it’s time to splash a little color into the rest of my life. Take a few risks, try a new thing or two, knock off some of the items on my spring to-do list. Maybe, eventually, I’ll feel more at home with color, and maybe that welcome brightness will spill over into the rest of my life.

(As I was writing this post, I realized I’d written a similar piece – called “Stuck in Neutrals” – for the now-defunct Radiant magazine, four years ago this spring. Interesting how some of these issues keep cropping up in our lives over and over again.)

How are you injecting color into your life this spring?

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