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Orange: the color of summer at Holden

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Mary Koch

At Holden Village, we’re oblivious to what the fashion capitals of the world are dictating. Our style statement for summer is orange—bright neon safety orange.
Nature’s paintbrush continues its usual lavish décor around the village: sky of blue, forest of varied greens and wildflowers in a riot of colors along the trails. The human paintbrush, however, is applying orange and its neon cousins, lime-green and yellow, to clothing, fences, signs and even a few fingernails.
Neon orange is endemic to construction sites, which describes Holden during this time of massive clean-up of pollution left from earlier mining days. More than a glaring way to get people’s attention, orange has become a symbol. Just as red, white and blue evoke certain feelings, orange for Holden Villagers has come to signify a time and feeling of renewal, friendship and laughter. A popular character in village festivities is a 12-foot-tall puppet dressed in orange safety vest and hard hat.
Recently an 11-year-old villager bounced into his parents’ chalet, delighted to show off his freshly-painted orange fingernails.
“They’re my PPE!” he happily explained. That’s “Personal Protective Equipment.” Even the lingo of construction is infiltrating the village. A group of Holden staff had decided orange fingernail paint would signal solidarity with mine remediation workers.
The Holden community is usually pretty homogenous, made up of folks — generally Lutherans — seeking a time of renewal and recreation. These days the community is more diverse: a small, long-term staff trying to maintain a thread of continuity; short-term volunteers coming for a week or more to help upgrade the village’s 75-year-old facilities and infrastructure, and—the largest group—mine remediation workers along with the people who feed and provide support services.
Throughout its 50-plus year history, Holden Village has maintained that no matter who you are or what your purpose for coming, once you arrive you are a “Villager.” No litmus test, no pledge to sign. You’re simply one of us. That credo is being enforced with spirited intent, especially now that traditional villagers are in a minority. Nobody here is a stranger, or at least that’s the goal.
It’s not always easy to get to know our neighbors, who work long hours, eat earlier in the morning and later at night.  We don’t schedule “mixers,” but the workers are invited to evening classes, worship and other events. Occasionally, a few show up. More likely, they hang out with us in the pool hall or snack bar, always likely places for one-on-one conversation.
Before orange, the perennial fashion statement at Holden was tie-dye. Villagers love to tell the story about a delegation of corporate executives who came to Holden during the early days of the remediation project. They showed up wearing suits and buttoned-down white shirts. Mind you, this is the edge of the wilderness. After a few days here, they returned to their corporate offices wearing those same shirts, which they had tie-dyed.
No matter why you come to Holden, the place changes you.

Mary Koch, Omak, is living and working at Holden as the village’s communications coordinator during the Holden Mine Remediation Project. She can be reached at