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On a journey

mtran's picture

The fog

It was a foggy Sunday morning. The fog actually began to envelop the campus since last night, I realized it as I was walking back from Park to my dorm. Fog wrapped everything with a coat of mysterious white. All that have been familiar to me on this campus suddenly became unfamiliar. Everything adopted an air of mystery. I could not see really far. Things only became familiar when I got closer to it. Walking along the road, any approaching tree seemed to be gradually revealing itself from behind a curtain, secretly and mysteriously, and ambiguously disappeared again as I walked pass it.

In the dark and foggy night, reality and unreality mixed. These two concepts are often approached in arts and literature as some kind of beauty that stimulates curiosity and admiration. But in nature, or in life, the unclear and mysterious seemed more frightening, at least to me... Or perhaps, there is no such thing as unreality, just my own fear of the unknown reality. Perhaps, unreality is just a presentation of possibilities, or even magic. Who knows what might emerge from our unpredictable nature ~

The Fog by William Henry Davies

mtran's picture

Sauntering barefoot

My mind was filled with memories. I just talked to my childhood friend. Our friendship started since the carefree summers when we were playing on the rice field in the neighborhood everyday. It felt so good to immerse myself in nature, with grasshoppers, with wild flowers and with a good friend. So today I decided to reconnect with nature again, the way I used to do. Having put off my shoes, I started walking barefoot on the grass lawn behind Rhoads. It did not feel really comfortable at first, with the little itching and tickling feeling as grass touched my feet soles. That there might be something like an insect in the grass added to my reluctance. But as I kept on walking, and breathing in the fresh air, listening to the sounds of nature, I felt connected. Without shoes, I felt myself getting closer and closer to the earth, to the nature. Without a barrier between my skin and the ground, I felt more balance and control over myself, too. And my feet experienced more freedom. Walking barefoot with the cool and soft grass was like a massage, so refreshing and pleasant. The experience was very much different from those I had as a child playing with her friend, yet a physical contact with nature made me feel younger…

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In a warm sunday morning

Just came back from my old spot on a warm winter Sunday morning. It was good to see the sun again on the blue clear sky. In my mind I always associate sunshine with happiness and joy, I associate the shreds of sunshine on a row of trees with liveliness. But there is no such association today. Sunshine brightens up the space but cannot take away the sad shades of autumn on the falling leaves. Somehow, it makes me think of the end of the beginning. People say spring is time for a new beginning, when plants come to life after winter doldrums and grow and thrive in the summer. Then comes autumn when they begin the shred their leaves just to wait for long winter to go and the spring to come back to life. I cannot help feeling the sentimental.

And then I thought, if I were to draw a picture of this picturesque place, I would have a hard time trying to sketch out the patterns. There is actually hardly any pattern since nature is about randomness. Among the trees that are still green there are those that have turned yellow or those that have no more leaves, randomly. Among the trees that are so tall and big there are those much shorter or larger, randomly. Merely looking at this place I would say there is not class division here in nature. Unlike human society, I cannot point out which plant is of higher authority or which is oppressed. It does not seem like a bad thing to nature, because they all grow and thrive and will die some day…

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When the wind blows

Yet, branches do not need leaves to know they are still beautiful...

The moment I walk out of Rhoads, the cold replaces the warm. The wind blows right into my face, ruffles my hair and freezes my hand. Morning chill seems to wake me up stronger than coffee can. Putting my hands in the pockets, I walk around trying to find comfort in the cold.

Leaves fall. The wind seems a bit cruel and bitter. It takes away an uncountable number of leaves from a tree. Trees turn out to be even more vulnerable to the wind than I am. I look down to see the grass now covered with shades of autumn. Yellow, brown and red coat the green lawn with a sense of sadness. And I look up to realize a tree with two distinctively separated halves: one with and another without leaves. The direction of the wind seems to have left behind some trace of favoritism. The half facing Rhoads gets the luck and is still covered with leaves. The other half has been robbed completely, revealing thin bare branches of lines and curves. Yet, these branches do not need leaves to know they are still beautiful...

I wonder if the tree misses the leaves, if it misses the green, if it misses Spring… But I also know that the other leaves will soon fall away and after winter comes spring again and the tree will soon get a new coat. Seasons come in cycle while I grow up each day. I cannot be gone like those leaves while there is too much to see and too much to learn. 

mtran's picture

Another thought on randomness ~

It is amazing how the use of rocks dates back to the origin of human history and is still applied nowadays. In history I have learnt about the many durable evidences of tools and buildings made of rocks and stones. It is not surprising that such an abundant, indigenous, long-lasting and useful material is still used in this time, especially with human expanding knowledge that can be applied to use specific type of rock for specific purpose of construction. However, what struck me is amount of work that makes a stone building and its beauty. In order to build up the castle-like Rhoads where I am, people had to excavate an area to form a quarry, rocks were then delivered to the construction site from the quarry and then cut and grinded to become perfect rectangular blocks that can be stacked into straight walls. Laying rocks is also an art as each pattern has its own characteristic. It create individuality for the building itself.

I used to think of nature as layers of randomness. Without the interference of human, trees grow up wherever conditions allow, weeds cover the area… But is randomness a pattern? If one lays rocks of different shapes on a wall or in a unexpected and undersigned pattern, the wall might turn out not ugly at all. Indeed, many buildings nowadays apply this as a  “random pattern”. And if language can be used to place an order onto the natural environment, then yes, randomness can be a pattern.

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Life and nature

It has been a week since my last visit to the longue behind Rhoads South. A week has been such a long period for me who in 7 days has been through a lot of different feelings. I learnt from school and work, I experienced happiness and disappointment, I made new friends and missed my old friends… But when I came back to the site, I did not recognize any significant change or difference. The grass lawn, the trees and the pond were standing still as if had been waiting for me to continue the meeting last week. At that very moment I realized peace in the green shade that covers the area. It dawned on me that all the ups and downs are just momentary. I heard the trees telling me that everything is going to be fine. And I believed in them.

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From a tree

I have been here since I was young, and short. The world I have been living in is a small and limited land. I grow up higher and higher just to see the surrounding with all its elements stay (almost) the same. Characteristics of shapes, colors, positions, etc. make no difference: they have all been there for too long and become too familiar that there is no reason for them to have a name. We are always in sight with each other I never miss or forget. However un-diverse and familiar this world is to me, it is still mysterious. Questions obsess me whether anything lies underneath the surface of water over there, whether I and all the tall plants that look exactly like me are of the same kind and so on. I long for an answer. I long for a better understanding of this world. The inability to move is a hardship. Whether it rains or shines, cold or hot, I am standing here observing and confusing myself. There are strangers who come to my world, stay for a while then leave me, even more puzzled, behind. There are fast-moving animals that keep running around and on my body, as if showing off their superior ability and teasing my helpless self. Giant as I am to many other beings, I feel incompetent to the world.

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Night sky and the full moon

Yesterday was Moon Cake day (or Mid Autumn festival). Vietnam and China were the first countries to celebrate this day, on which people can see the full moon from the earth. Nowadays many other Asian countries also celebrate this festival. It is a day for moon cake, green tea and lanterns.

I visited the longue behind Rhoads South in the evening, after coming back from Haffner’s Mid Autumn festival, with a cup of hot tea and a piece of moon cake (grilled moon cake with lotus seed paste and salted egg yolk – my favourite!). The night was cold and I was lucky to have the cup of tea as a companion. I like the feeling when I hold the cup, take a sip and let the flow of warmth travel inside my body, in contrast with the cold outside. Thanks to the tea I could have been able to stand the night’s cold.

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Twilight, random thoughts

Today, I returned to my site with a friend. As we were sitting on the lounge behind Rhoads South, looking at the field without a single person, she told how she dislikes being in an open space on her own. She mentioned the feeling of loneliness as she stands there in the middle a huge grass lawn, surrounded by nothing but the air and sounds of nature, which surprised me. It seemed to me that an empty open space made her insecure and feared. However much I try to understand the logic behind her feelings, I cannot imagine myself in such condition. I am not brave enough to walk in a strange wood alone; however, when it comes to a place familiar or known-as-safe to me, I enjoy being in an open space. It is relaxing to me when I am able to cast a look faraway and up high above, to realize the green field so big and the blue sky so high. I attribute personality to our difference. While I tend to enjoy my own personal space, my friend cannot stay without an accompany. While I am looking forward to being on my own, my friend feels insecure when she is alone. As such, even though both of us love to be outside in nature, criterias defining our favorite places differ.

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