Driving back to Washington after a wonderful and restful vacation at my childhood home in upstate New York gave me plenty of time to reflect on the journey and on the scenery. I spent four years of college driving the rolling hills of I-88 in New York and I-84 in Pennsylvania, and home in my heart will probably always be a landscape of mixed pine and hardwood trees interspersed with farmers’ fields dotted by farmhouses and barns.
I missed the brilliant fall foliage of home-home this year. Although the forests denuded of leaves initially felt a bit bleak and cold, as I drove, I started to recognize the subtle hues in the browns of the trees and the gray of the sky. My Beloved Husband has taught me to see that if these scenes are to be painted, that other tones such as purple, blue, and red must all be mixed in to properly convey the richness in the neutral colors. Winter brings a subtle landscape that requires more quiet and observation to appreciate in contrast to the longed-for golden greens of spring and the flashier displays of summer and autumn.
As I contemplated the landscape that had accompanied my driving all those years ago, I felt my heart reach beneath the trees into the bones of the land upon which I began to build my life as an adult. I could feel the connection to other landscapes in other parts of the country where I have lived or visited. The plains in Texas and Michigan. The mountains of Tennessee, Colorado, Maine, Seattle, Yosemite, and Yellowstone. The deserts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The beaches of Cape Cod, California, and the Keys. The glaciers and fjords of Alaska. The endless marsh of the Everglades. When people at work question how I can represent Colorado effectively without having lived there, I explain that my travels and adventures have instilled in me a soul-deep love of the land. No other explanation has been required.
When I was originally deciding whether to accept the Congressional Fellowship or the Executive branch fellowship, which most likely would have led to a placement in the State Department, my one regret with my choice was that I would lose the opportunity to have an international experience for this year. I don’t think I anticipated how much this year would add to my understanding and appreciation for my own country and all of its variety. In addition to learning the land, for each office in which I interviewed, I also learned a little about the people in each state- how they earn a living, what causes are important to them, and how they spend their leisure time. It certainly would have been easier to work in an office where I already knew the local people and their issues, but my experiences with Colorado are encouraging me to take ownership of the whole country and all Americans, rather than just a state or a region.
When I have been asked what I wanted from my experiences this year, I have explained that I want my world to be bigger. I didn’t anticipate that my heart would get bigger as well.