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Unexpected encounters

Sarah Cunningham's picture

My explorations of the five assigned sites on campus were punctuated by a couple of unexpected meetings. I started in the Campus Center parking lot-- very near where I park as a commuting student. It's not an unpleasant spot-- the pavement a bit cracked here and there, though no plants actually grow through it. The plants in the mulched garden beds looked happy indeed. The way our assigned question was phrased-- where do I feel happiest?-- was conducive to my realization that I feel happy today, and in fact I felt noticeably happy in all five different spots; so thank you Anne for making me aware of that! I needed to go the campus Health Center to change an appointment, so I made the glassed-in staircase at Dalton Hall my next stop. Cold air-conditioned air greeted me, bringing the welcome interest of a change, though too cold to increase my happiness. I liked looking through all that glass at the trees outside, and I liked the light that pours in there, on this day of interesting and changing light. (Dalton also awakens distant memories and associations for me: when we first moved here in 1959, when I was 7 years old, the science building was not yet built, and my father's office in the Math department was on the third floor of Dalton. His colleague John Oxtoby was physically disabled, on crutches, and had to struggle up the two flights of stairs-- this glass stairway and elevator are much later additions, after the age of accessibility had arrived...)

But already the first moment of (what always feels like) significant synchronicity had come, had crossed my path in the form of two male professors in gorgeous robes of colored and black silk and velevet, hurrying purposefully down the stairs and out of the building. The first just evoked a question mark in my mind (huh?) but the second reminded me there must be another opening ceremony I had noted and then forgotten; so after changing my appointment at the Health Center I followed the gowns towards Goodhart, saw black-robed seniors lining up at Rock Arch, and found myself a nice seat on one of the stone ledges at the side of the hall. Waiting and watching as people assembled I fell into a deliciously thought-free state, feeling rain misting on the back of my neck through the open window; and I sat meditating gently on the traditions, the continuity, on my still dim but growing understanding of how tradition is central to learning altogether, to how learning is passed on in an institution like this, with the colored hoods and robes and the funny medieval hats evoking the universities of the Middle Ages in Europe, in a direct unbroken line to Bryn Mawr-- and how is Bryn Mawr really pronounced in Welsh? The Celticness giving yet another flavor of antiquity, though I'm told the Welsh names arrived here with the railroad which was built by Welshmen in the 19th century... Then the bagpipers arrived, and the procession, and the speeches. The emotion intensified and then dissipated.

I thought I would aim for Park, rm. 20 next, but changed my mind and saved a few steps by crossing the road first to English House. The door was unlocked, the interior was dim and deserted, Room 1 was a smallish seminar room immediately to the right on going in. Dim, nondescript, but not unwelcoming, and here too I felt happy. (The happiness, I could still tell, had more to do with my interior self than with my surroundings.) Not much light coming in, the afternoon going through another subdued, non-sparkling phase. I sat for a bit, and not till I stood up did I notice the framed quilt on the wall. I liked that it was there, though the images did not mean too much to me. I wanted to get out into the woods, so I moved on.

The woods! It's not so much feeling happier, but just so so much more alive, among all that life. I stood on the brink of the woods this morning, but did not enter. Now I see that there is indeed a path of sorts, uneven but gravelly here and there, leading downhill in the wet. So I start down, admiring the huge mature trees, the undisturbed old growth forest, the dripping, the feeling of constant change amidst the stillness, not knowing how far I will go, or even how far those woods extend, aware I am expected home for supper. Not too far down the path divides, one branch continuing downward but turning almost, on this rainy day, into a little stream with gravelly ruts. (This is exactly the meaning of the ancient, and modern, Irish word "boreen", which means a track or path but also a streambed, in Ireland's wet climate usually both...). The other branch curves back up toward the back lawn behind English House, and as I decide to turn that way, but before I do, I see a deer on the grass, absolutely immobile as if carved from stone-- it could almost be a statue but no, it turns its head to look behind, then back at me, ears spread wide, incredibly graceful body incredibly still. Our gaze is locked through the undergrowth, I am thinking, "please teach me, be my professor of stillness." I turn slowly to face it without moving nearer, wanting it to move nearer, wanting to prolong the moment-- one of those moments I always look for, that seem to confirm that my random choices, my wanderings or saunterings, have brought me to exactly the right place at the right time.

The deer knows I am there, but does not leave. Then I can see a second deer arrive behind the first, coming around a corner from somewhere onto the lawn, coming cautiously down to join us. I take one T'ai Chi step, another, another, and the deer still does not flee-- then it moves-- toward me-- no, sideways away from the path into the woods. A moment of panic, of flight, a strange throaty sound-- but it stops again, and looks at me some more. And looking straight at me, makes that sound I've never heard before, some kind of warning, a loud passage of air in the throat, a chhchhchhchhchh guttural hiss. The littler one comes down closer behind it. It is almost time to go. We watch each other a bit longer, and I say, I will come back and see you again, I want to learn from you. Softly. We are listening to each other as well as looking. Then both deer depart down the hill into the woods.

My last stop is the Park Science Building. All the rooms seem to be numbered in the 100s, 200s, 300s, I have to ask directions twice and wind my way through tiled halls with displays of minerals and signs that say "Physics lab" for what seems like some minutes, down stairs and down stairs again, to find that yes room 20 does exist, broad expanses of bare clean tables, a (pretend) skull, jars of colored pencils, shelves of mortars and pestles and large beakers and bottles, a row of windows although we seemed to be in a sub sub basement-- the building is built into the hill. I am quite happy here also, though I suppose it is not somewhere I would choose to spend a lot of time.

I think I am pretty much happier where the plants would be happier too. The difference is that I can come and go more or less at will. The similarity is that light and air and soil make me feel freer.



S. Yaeger's picture

Sarah, your description of

Sarah, your description of Convocation is, like your other descriptions here, realy lovely.  I love that you've got a layered reaction to each place and that you're describing, as I understand it, a hybrid of newness and familiarity.  It will be interesting to read your continuing reactions and reflections.

Sarah Cunningham's picture

Thanks, Shannon!

Thanks, Shannon!