Orange is the color of artificial things (TANG), of caution-things (airport workers’ coats), and of full ripeness.
Once, when my friend Chris took me north to Belfast, I wore a scarf that I understood to be Indian sadhu-orange, but which the military took to be Orange-orange. Not a good idea to wrap your head that way, in that time and place. Have you ever been checked out through the sight of an automatic rifle, held by a soldier on top of a tank? Wearing Orange-orange, which I thought of as holy-orange, earned me that experience on the Falls Road that afternoon.
Right now in New Hampshire, we are in one of the usual periods of unusual cold, when it seems nothing could ever be orange again in this frozen-stiff landscape. And yet if I think about it: chanterelles and their lookalikes, jewelweed flowers, autumn maple leaves. Color takes a break right now, gathers itself under snow so cold it falls from pine branches with a metallic clang. In this weather, you have to take care to nourish what’s orange inside yourself, to carry it carefully into the world under layers of wool and down and whatever miracle-stuff keeps my skinny toes warm inside my tall, grey boots. I snorkel out, keeping my heart glowing warm within its sheaths.
The pellet stove burns orange all day, converting wood-dust into warm dogs and hands that can hold pencils without shaking. The fan blows on and on, turning semi-frozen Québecquois rivers into habitable space. Orange is the color of being able to live up here right now without specialized skills. Orange is deep bear fat, the skill of animals storing sunlight under their skins.
Orange: soft, like a mouthful of mango pulp, or a bite of ripe papaya. In warm climates, even fruits that don't look orange from the outside often prove to be so under husks, leathery skin, and spikes. Orange is the syrup of still noontime heat. Orange is daylight carried into night, small sticky suns broken open to slide down your tongue in the dark.
Flames dance on glass. Flames pour forth all night, heating these spaces and bodies. May all beings have their orange in this night. May a tracery of flickering sunlight run parallel to their veins, sparkling limb from limb. May all beings survive this long, cold night.
This time of year, I usually go off on retreat, but not this time. This time, no ottering in frozen fields, for me. I will be seeing clients instead, finishing up coursework, finding other ways of burning bright in the first few days of the year. I have had a lot of retreat in this life, and this year I like the idea of carrying fire forward into the world.
In winter we are like the hidden sparks of last night’s ashes. Nothing meets the eye, but make no mistake. Potent fire-seeds, little dragons hide in that dead powder, ready to flare up, given air and fuel. This is what we can be to one another: catalyst, breath of fire, reviving power and spirit.
Orangeade, Fanta, TANG, Thumsup, Kool-Aid: all the forbidden oranges of my childhood. Cheetos. Box mac and cheese. Cheezits and cheese puffs. Caution-orange. Chemical orange. I imagine alchemical substances that combine sweetness and cheesiness with flame-color. We get high on hot TANG, waiting for the bus to take us out of the Catskills. We crackle with energy, then crash, sleeping on one another’s shoulders for comfort on the long ride south.
Orange-rinds carved by my grandfather's hand into long, spiral ribbons, falling softly to his white dessert plate. My nun friends at breakfast, each preparing an orange in her own, elaborate way: sections, slices, wedges. I quarter the rind, then peel. This is the slowest of all. An orange is an opportunity to re-find the pace of ripening, and its cumulative unfurling. An orange in New Hampshire in the winter is a tropical missionary, embodying its gospel without holding back.
Orange-scented chocolate and chocolate oranges to be eaten in sections both feature among the "medicinal allowables" we eat after noon, in the monastery. We become connoisseurs of the texture and flavor of every known form of chocolate available in England. We are the Antwerp gemologists of sweets, sidling up to the tea tray with experts’ eyes and tongues. We? I do, anyway. I can detect with my starving taste buds what is in peak condition, what has gotten overheated, and what is a bit old and dusty. We have orange juice also: this is a medicine that combines queasily with soymilk, cheese, and chocolate, and which reminds us of warmth and sunlight, when neither seems possible.
Chloe and Elliot are both deep black on the outside, but inside they are bear-fat orange, and the fireworks of their dog-being go off without cease. They bark and spark and gallop, heedless of the cold, chain reactions of soul so perfect no one can explain or fathom their gifts. How to make dogs out of kibble? It is impossible, unless the whole universe – itself an impossibility – conspires to bring forth creatures in its image. I sit on this orange sofa, burning at my core, and recognize in my dogs something that is undeniably true of myself, too. Kibble into dog; ravioli into woman. Surely both are bizarre and miraculous.
Long may we flow through the cold, dark, inert times, into the ripe. Long may we burn forth, and shine.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.