Long hours forcing my mind to focus on dry reading. Commiserating with stressed out friends about all the many things we have to get done. Frustration at how quickly precious time passes. The full life of a college student drains even the strongest of us. I’ve learned to look for rest in the little moments of escape.
I never get “real” exercise. I avoid the gym like one avoids crossing a river at its deepest point. You will not find me hiking the trails around the college. There are, however, two walks built into my daily routine that keep my legs working and my heart beating. One is up and down the four stories to my dorm room. The other is my regular, yet treasured walk up and down from the art building.
I push through the rust-coloured metal doors out of the campus center and use the grass to pass a couple of girls walking slowly and enjoying ice-cream cones. I also pass the small crab apple tree that grows between the campus center and my dorm. In my memory, it will always stand as it did on that cold winder night, with over twenty apples on strings hanging from its spider-like bows. A paper message was taped about its middle proclaiming it both “The Tree of Life” and “The Tree of the Knowledge of Good And Evil”. Ah, the joys of my freshman year and the harmless pranks of an abstract thinker. But though this memory remains steady, the tree is ever changing. Now, as fall begins, it bears an abundance of real, growing, little red apples.
After the tree I step over a spot of path where just yesterday I stopped with my camera to take a picture of a puddle. The puddle reflected one of the college’s black-bannered light posts—the kind of light post that has a cousin standing in a snowy forest in the land of Narnia. I received confused looks from the students leaving dinner when I suddenly stopped to take a picture of their feet. Often my behaviour on this walk appears strange. Absorbed in a detail I will stoop to gaze at a fragile white mushroom, or awed by the immense beauty of the clouds I will walk with my head tilted way up. Often I sing to myself, or quote Shakespeare, or simply ramble happily to myself about whatever is on my mind.
Ahead is the rock. This new addition to the campus--meant to be painted with announcements--both fascinates and repels me. Did the seniors who gave it to us intend it as a blessing or a curse? I do not know. But what I do know is that already, in the first few weeks of school it has looked both silly—with bright white and colourful hand prints—and downright ugly—covered in a dreadful blend of greens and blacks. And now it is strange, painted with red, black and white hearts and illegible words.
I pass the rock by, and make my way towards the music building. The way the cement path cuts off a corner makes me smile. I suppose students used to walk across the grass here, and so the school decided to make the grassy lane into a path proper. As I walk, I step over fallen leaves of every colour and shape. Fall is more exciting here than elsewhere because of the great variety of trees on campus. Each tree turns a different shade of red, yellow or brown. The green vines that grow in the flower patch by the music building look as though they are bleeding bright red blood as fire-engine leaves from the bushes nearby shine out between cracks in the foliage.
Then I am in the wind tunnel, surrounded by painted concrete and patches of words, which I sometimes pause to read. It fascinates me how prevalent written words are on this campus. One plaque in the tunnel reads; “‘God created man in his image…’ Genesis 1:27” followed by “‘One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flower opens in the morning.’ Rilke.” Here, along the very path that I walk, I find confirmation of the goodness of my delight in nature. This delight is honouring to God because he created the world for our pleasure and it cheers his heart to see me set aside my worries and rest in him and in the beauty he has created. I hum softly in the tunnel—forever enjoying the echo—and pull my sweater a little tighter against the chill breeze.
I always accelerate up the hill to the road. The challenge of this hill energizes me. When I reach the road I must break my run or fast walk to check the road for traffic. Sometimes, if a car is coming, I will decide before I reach the road to slow down or stop entirely until it has passed. That way, it doesn’t have to worry about pausing to stop for me and I don’t have to decide whether to cross, or wave it on. In this way, decisions made early can stave off more pressured and possibly less wise decisions made on the spur of a moment.
My favourite part of the walk is next. I love the broken black pavement with its familiar cracks and ankle-catchers. I love the way the sun makes patterns on the ground through the leaves of the trees arching above. I love the wild flowers, pale blue, bright yellow, and poignant white, which grow in abundance on either side. I am amused by the gum covered trees and fence posts. I wonder if I will ever add a piece of chewing gum to them. Probably not.
Sometimes I run up this path, other times I skip. And sometimes I just walk, stopping now and then to take a close-up look at or picture of a wild flower. There was an addition made to my walk this semester that, when I first discovered it, gave me a delight so strong that it tied my tongue and I could not even speak to myself! Someone has placed a little round green door with a yellow doorknob and painted black swirly hinges in the bank of the path. Our own little Hobbit Hole. Today there are two yellow leaves plastered with rain to the green door. For a while the Hobbit Hole was gone. I thought someone had stolen it and this made me as angry as I had been delighted when I discovered it. But now it has been returned and the ferocity of my distress at its disappearance is fading into a muted memory of strong emotion.
The art building, my destination with its dark wood pointed roof and many windows, comes into sight. My fingers tingle with excitement at continuing the project I have come to work on. In this very moment my eagerness to paint is transferred into pleasure at the beauty around me. A chipmunk catches my eye as he glides across the grass and into the forest. I smile as I recall the day before when I followed him as he scampered along the path and into the little tunnels he has made in the deep grass down by the road. He paused to watch me curiously, and I wished that I had sunflower seeds to offer him.
We shape one another, the walk and I. My attention to it and impressions of it give it a deeper meaning and it leaves in imprint on me every time I walk it. It refreshes my spirit, stretching my legs and bringing new vigour to my soul.
I wonder if others who make that daily pilgrimage are as moved as I am. I do not think many of them are. Often they have trapped themselves between two fine white wires of music so that they cannot hear the whisper of wind in the leaves. Sometimes they walk deep in conversation or laughter and pay no heed to the silent speech of the trees and wild flowers.
This walk is an in-between place, not part of the goal, but the journey. Which is why I doubt that many take it seriously. But for me it often becomes more important than the art project or the mealtime or the bedtime to which I am heading.
When the moon haunts the leaves above, or the clouds glow with a living-grey, or a chipmunk stands before me pondering his tiny life, I cannot help but breathe. Breathe and live and love the moment that is beauty. When someday I am graduated and gone, my heart will ache for that path and for the joy of pausing to live.