Museum steps to maple branches: seasons on the quad
April 27, 2018
“The quad is really the heart of campus,” I used to tell unconvinced tour groups, faking a smile as we walked along snow banks piled four feet high through the winter. “It’s really beautiful during the first and last weeks of the year!” I promise them. And it is. Once the permafrost thaws and the giant puddles of water dry up, the quad truly is a beautiful place.
I fell in love with the Bowdoin quad when I first visited on an August afternoon. One year later, I listened to President Barry Mills welcome our class with promises of endless Bowdoin Hellos and the best four years of our lives. During orientation, I reveled in the late summer sun, enjoyed bagels in front of Hubbard Hall and waited in line for twenty minutes for gelato on the museum steps. In my first few weeks, I sat with my geology textbook and floormates and soaked up the last rays of summer sun, watching with wistfulness (or early onset seasonal depression) as a maple next to Hyde turned a premature fiery orange.
As classes and extracurriculars and work and the chaos of Bowdoin life pick up, the leaves begin to change. If you blink (or never leave H-L), you may miss it. By Family Weekend, the quad is ablaze in a palette of oranges and reds and yellows. I wonder if the College plans this. Early morning light dapples the quad in kaleidoscopic patches, and it is still warm enough for the intrepid quad-goers to sit under the falling leaves. We immortalize this landscape on Instagram and the next day the trees are bare.
When we leave for Thanksgiving in late November, the quad is ominous and uninviting. Skeletal trees and brisk November winds whisk us off campus and make us grateful that we only have one month left.
We return from Winter Break to an impenetrable wasteland. The quad is no longer our friend; the bitter cold lashes out at us as we try to dash across campus in our five-minute passing time. Sure, the ice rink can be fun when it’s actually frozen, but I never made the time to pull out my yard sale ice skates from the back of my closet.
But sometime in March, the snow begins to melt and I can walk directly from the Searles to Moulton without making ninety degree angles. I am reminded of what the Earth looks like and that there are paved paths that neatly bisect the quad.
By late April the quad becomes the Outing Club’s playground as Chaco-clad students string up hammocks and slacklines and scamper up trees and practice acroyoga. The College wets itself at this sight, especially if it coincides with Admitted Students’ weekend. Frisbee boys take over the quad, impervious to the space they take up, and I duck my head to avoid decapitation. “It’s only fifty degrees,” I am tempted to tell the underclassmen playing spikeball in their pastel pink shorts. I hold my tongue, though, and let them have their fun as I pull out my sunglasses and laptop.
As the seasons change, the quad’s function change, too. It goes from being a thoroughfare to a destination, from icy paths to inviting patches of grass and shade. The quad becomes a watering hole, as one friend put it. We no longer hurry through windswept trees on our way home, but instead stop to chat with friends or appreciate budding trees, though we know that their leaves will just barely be emerging by the time we leave in May.
In a month’s time, hammocks and laptops and spikeball nets will be replaced by rows of plastic chairs and expectant families and hungover students, subsumed by the pomp and circumstance of graduation. We’ll cross the stage and exchange stiff handshakes and hug our friends and say goodbye. We’ll leave behind the lush green grass and summer shade, and the quad will prepare for its next round of Bowdoin Hellos and a new generation of slackliners and Frisbee throwers and classmates who will learn to dread the winter chill and embrace the spring thaw. They will come to appreciate the solitude of a late night cry on the museum steps, the rush of wind and adrenaline of streaking the quad on a late summer night, a crescent moon rising between the chapel towers on a midnight walk home from the library and the glorious warmth of the first true day of spring.
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This is a beautifully written evocation of Bowdoin sacred space. There were no frisbees on the quad 50 years ago but the passage of time and color and light was exactly as the author has described.