She's very shy this year. So different from last year, when her jubilant energy jumped on the scene in mid-March. This year, she's more cautious, holding back her extraordinary beauty, making us live with brown a little longer than usual. It is as if she is saying, "I won't be treated this way. Don't take me for granted, and you must stop abusing me. I am not endlessly resilient. I have my limits. And if I leave, brown is all you'll have. Just remember."

As I write this, though, she's playfully peaking out from dead branches and dry leaves. She's back, dressed in yellow and a touch of green. Of course, I think. She seems to love us, and life, endlessly.

We want her in our lives. After all, we look so good in her reflected light. Just her existence makes us feel good about ourselves. She is forever young, and when we are with her, we feel young, too. She makes it easy to love. We can't imagine living without her, and so we try very hard and succeed very well in not imagining it.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped denying the danger that she and we are in. Then we just began adapting, making plans about how we could live without her. It hurts too much to care, and it hurts too much to change our ways.

When we were younger, we got along better. We loved her, played within her garden and her wilderness, wrote poems to her and songs. We opened our windows to her, walked and rode bikes with her, breathing in her fresh air. She brought us flowers, and we arranged them in vases. We went swimming with her in foamy oceans and clear lakes. We listened to songbirds and, together, watched honeybees buzzing from flower to flower.

But things have changed. We got caught up in convenience. And it is so hard to unravel from that sticky web. We love things so much now, more, it seems, than we love her. Can't we have both, or as we used to say a few decades ago, have it all?

So sad -- it seems the answer is no. We have to choose, or at least prioritize. We'll have to spend more for less, find substitutes for Baggies and Styrofoam, live with our current smartphone even when the sirens' calls of "new and more" ring in our ears -- so seductively and dangerously.

When we are children, love comes to us freely. We call it "unconditional." We are just loved because we are. If, however, we stay in such a one-sided relationship with love, we become narcissistic. And that is an unlovable way to be. At some point in our growth, we must love as well as be loved.

We seem to be at that point in our relationship with her, that shy beauty, spring. Love makes us choose. We can't love everything equally. We can't have everything we want and her, too. It's just not always about us. Some things must become more important than others, even, sometimes, more important than us.

Spring reminds us that Earth is still alive. We have been loved so unconditionally by Earth. She has been our mother. But she has become weakened, ravaged. Parts of her are dying, not just hibernating, but never to return. It's hard to imagine because she keeps giving us her daughter, our love, spring. Her presence this year is poignant.

Monday is Earth Day. We can clean up branches and trash on the sides of roads. We can walk on the beach and in the woods and putter in our gardens. But the time has come for us to figure out a better way to love her in return.

Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport. Her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly, and she may be reached at