Holbrook: Just call me a stick in the mud (column)
“We’re leaving for Santa Fe” my friend Leigh responded when I asked if she was free for lunch.
I texted Angela to see if she wanted to take a walk: “Well, we are walking around Montauk Lighthouse on Long Island tomorrow, can you make it?” she quipped.
I contacted Kate and she replied that she and her family were heading out on vacation.
“Let’s do lunch/coffee when we get back in July” she suggested.
Mud season has arrived in Summit County.
Last week began with thick wet snow. While for my boyfriend Alan and a few other die-hard skiers, this meant another day at A-Basin; I was grim and ready for winter to be over. The exciting bustle of ski season was long gone — and summer still weeks away. Along the main streets of Breck or Frisco, all my favorite restaurants and coffee shops were closed. In fact, many of the businesses seemed to be shuttered.
Friends were mostly out of town. And no one showed up to my Monday yoga class in Breckenridge. It was little consolation that I could wind my way through the grocery store aisles without the usual peak-season shopping cart traffic jam.
“Where is everybody else?” I wanted to know, of those who had not abandoned ship and had stayed in town. “And what is everybody doing?”
“Working on home improvements before camping season” was one remark I heard. “Cleaning up leaves and glacial dog poo,” “airing out the house” and “relaxing, reading” were others.
Everything just seemed to have slowed down to a dismal trudge. And it wasn’t just what was (or wasn’t) going on in town — or my social life. A large writing project I’d been working on suddenly seemed to have hit a wall, too.
All of which made me think about how to take a more positive approach to the natural rhythm of life in a mountain town where there are exciting peaks of activity in winter and summer and slow, quiet times in between. And, as someone who works for herself, my professional life is a lot like this, too. This is the shape of the life I’ve chosen.
Wendell Berry is a writer and a farmer, and his poetry and essays are familiar to many. His writing reflects a deep commitment to the land and to agricultural life — a life that has both its own cycles and unpredictability.
In an essay having to do with “form,” Berry writes about embracing the restrictions that come with the commitments we make in life — to work, to a particular place or way of life, to relationships — and viewing challenges and slowdowns as necessary stimulants to growth and creativity: “These halts and difficulties do not ask for immediate remedy; we fail them by making emergencies of them. They ask, rather, for patience, forbearance, inspiration — the gifts and graces of time, circumstance, and faith. They are, perhaps… occasions for surpassing what we know or have reason to expect. They are points of growth, like the axils of leaves.”*
By the end of the week, I was still feeling restless and impatient with the cold grey weather, the giant unmelted snow pile in the back yard and the unanswered phone calls about work. Deciding to avoid an impending gardening project, I hopped in the car with my dog Luke and went out for a drive. Maybe a hike along Lake Dillon would provide inspiration. But somehow, the stiff wind off the dark water, the deserted stony beach made me gloomier.
As I drove toward Swan Mountain Road, intending to loop back home, I remembered a cute coffee shop in Summit Cove. Not feeling terribly optimistic, I thought “It’s probably closed, too.”
There were other cars parked in front of The Pour House, a small mod-ish coffee shop tucked into a friendly little shopping area in Summit Cove. The wind had died down, and now the sun was out too; tables and chairs were set out on the stone patio and the door was wide open to the warm afternoon breezes. Luke was allowed to join me, and I got a coffee and sat out on the patio.
Maybe it was the shift in weather or the pleasant hum of activity as a few other patrons stopped by. My mind drifted, and I just enjoyed the sunshine. Soon enough, the busy-ness of summer would be upon us; and though at that moment I didn’t know how the project I was working on would move forward, some different approaches were beginning to form in my mind. I was curious, too, to get back to the gardening project, to see what might be coming up in the flowerbeds. If nothing else, gardening at 9,400 feet is a leap of faith, a commitment to an idea despite “the halts and difficulties.”
Wendell Berry’s essay continues, with good advice for anyone who has ever felt stuck, in work, love, or life in general: “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” *
*Quotes are from Wendell Berry, “Poetry and Marriage: The Use of Old Forms”, in Standing by Words (Berkley, CA: Counterpoint Press, 1983).
Christina Holbrook lives in Breckenridge. She writes each month about acclimating to mountain life.
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