The Beauty of a Snowy Campus

As a current executive board member of the New York City chapter of the IUAA, I continue to meet fellow alumni who find time to wax poetic about their favorite memories and crazy stories from times gone by. Each time these conversations take place, it reminds me of my own memories, one of them standing out above all others. It took place nearly six years ago today, and directly afterwards, I wrote about my experience in one of my now-defunct blogs. Now, I want to share it again, this time with a community I know can appreciate it. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe even remind you of your own campus memories!

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The following is the story of the early morning hours of this Tuesday, January 30th, 2007.

I am sitting in my chair across from my computer, wasting away the hours as I try so desperately to fall asleep, as I do each night, only to fail in my endeavors until a clock reads 4 in the hour column. I usually spend my time during these failures going from one social network website to another, legally spying on people's lives profile update by profile update, and alas, this night is no exception. Except this time, I am not relaxing myself with the music from my computer, just with silence. This turns out to be the best unconscious decision I made in the last two weeks.

I start to hear a rattling sound coming from outside, like tiny pebbles hitting a flimsy piece of metal. "I've heard that sound before," I tell myself, as I curiously peel back the drab curtains that adorn my window. In fact, it was a sound I had heard before, but not in this fashion. Not in these conditions.

To my delight, I see a steady stream of white precipitation falling so innocently to the ground, as well as on the flimsy piece of metal I call my air conditioner. "Beautiful," I say silently. "Absolutely beautiful." I consider how even the most troublesome occurrences in a person's life have a way of giving that person a sense of ease in one way or another. In my case, my troublesome occurrence is that I have become a bit of an insomniac. My sense of ease in this situation is that I was afforded this opportunity to see one of my favorite events in nature transpire before my very eyes. I was not going to waste it.

Three minutes later, I am standing in front of my closet mirror, admiring my wintry garb that I had hurriedly put on. A stocking cap, gloves, and sweatpants, all of which have IU symbols on them ("I'm a walking advertisement," I think to myself), as well as a modest winter coat that resembles khaki corduroy fabric. It looks perfect, but I was still missing something. Something that I had avoided earlier in the evening that was the main reason I find myself in my current position: music. I grab my iPod, slip the earphones under the stocking hat that covers my ears, and walk out the door.

As I am walking toward the door that leads outside, I catch sight of a few of my residents still up playing a game that should have been over hours ago. I strike up a rather meaningless conversation with them, and they end up asking me where I am going. I guess to them, it was rather odd to see someone who looks like he just signed up for a snowball fight, being as late in the evening (or early in the morning, depending on viewpoint) as it was, I told them simply, "Well, it's snowing, and I have nothing to do, so I'm going for a walk." "You have fun with that," one of them replied facetiously. I smiled, and casually left them to their game. This would be the last human interaction or contact I would have for the rest of the night.

There really is nothing quite like the first step that you take outside after it has been snowing for a while. The crunch that follows your foot touching the snow feels so alien, yet sounds so familiar, at least for me. The ground is perfectly covered with a shroud of white; not with an abundance of snow, but just enough to where you can't see the color underneath. I set my iPod to play music by Kings Of Convenience, a band I figured would have the pace I was looking for during a walk through a wintry night in the outdoors, and once the music is set, I start my journey.

At the outset, I really have no idea where I am headed, just that I want, rather, need to be outside at this moment. About two minutes into my destination-less trek, I stop at a street that is also covered in a veil of snow, hardly any pavement to be seen with the exception of a solitary trail of tire tracks. My first thought when I saw the tracks was how I would be when I was a kid in the car with my parents when it was snowing. I would always tell whoever was driving to turn on the brights so that the snow was much more visible, and through my child-like imagination, I would pretend that I was in some sort of spaceship out of a Star Wars movie and we had just pushed over into lightspeed. I loved winter as a kid, and that feeling has not left me or decreased in any capacity to this day. After my flashback, I paused for a moment more and noticed the snow falling through the path of one of the lights along the side of the street. Something about that instant was like it had jumped straight from a nature magazine right into my perception, or rather I had drifted into one of the pages detailing winter scenes shot by some absolute professional. It was then that I decided where I was going to go.

I continue walking, crossing one of the main streets on campus, which, in turn, is also neatly covered in snow. Instead of walking in a dimly lit area, I decide to use a more well-lit path, and I do this for two reasons. For one, I can see where I am going a little better, because winter weather is no place for an unsure foot, and two, it creates a better ambiance for me to walk through. As I walk, I can hear the sound of a trickling stream through the music being played in my head. I stop the song, and take a moment to notice the odd pairing of the sound of moving water mixed with sight of frozen water falling to the ground. Listening more intently, I notice the ever-so-slight sound of the rustling of dead leaves on trees that never fully relinquished their hold on their green counterparts. Other than those sights and sounds, it was completely quiet and completely still. "Perfection," I thought.

After a brief stop, I continue on, and as I do so, I notice that the path that I am walking is completely untouched by anyone else. And in fact, the longer I walk, the more it starts to become apparent that I might be the only one moving around on campus right now, or so it would seem. I cross several wooden bridges that crack under foot with each step I make because of the frozen wood. Later, I find myself next to an old chapel with the lights still on. I go down for a closer look, and maybe to actually step inside for a peek, but to no avail. "A locked door on a church? I didn't think God had hours of availability," I said sarcastically to myself. I am still walking at this point, and I am still on a path that nobody has walked on, nor have I seen anybody on campus. It must have been close to 3 in the morning, but still. "It's really only a matter of time before I run into someone,' I whisper.

I happened to look down at my coat and sweatpants and find that I am covered in a fair amount of snow; it is really coming down now, so it is a good thing that I am nearing my destination. And it was at this moment when I took my eyes off the sidewalk to pay attention to the snow that was accumulating on my clothing where I nearly planted my backside on the concrete. "Oops, I'd better look around when I'm standing still next time," I thought. I looked around expecting to find several people staring at me for my bonehead move as is my habit, but still, there is no one around. Not even the sign that someone was there.

This thought process did not really hit me until a couple of minutes later when I had reached my destination. There, directly in front of me, was one of the most beautiful and peaceful sights that I have ever seen on this campus. The main drag of Bloomington--Kirkwood Avenue--known for its late nights, drunk students, bad dancing, and loud music, at this moment was one of the quietest places in the city. From where I was standing, you can see all the way to the town square, which goes in a downhill-then-back-uphill fashion. And nothing. Not a car, not a person, nothing. Just a white pathway leading from my feet to the horizon, where only the traffic lights by the square was the only unnatural movement. It finally set in that on a campus that has over 30,000 students and a town that houses 70,000 or so, I was the only one around. The campus, the town, everything, was mine and mine alone. I was taking my own private tour, and I was my own tour guide. It was surreal to say the least. I stayed in that one spot for close to five minutes, just staring out onto the horizon, looking around at the vast expanse of road that had no movement whatsoever. It was perfect. That was the reason I decided to venture outside in the snow, whether I knew it or not before I started.

I started to make my way back, but I still wanted to be outside for as long as possible, so I started sightseeing, going to different places around my original path and seeing them like it was the first time I had laid eyes on them. I walked a while through Dunn Woods, caught a glimpse of Adam and Eve, sought refuge in Rose Well House, and sat for a spell next to Mr. Wells. It all might sound a bit corny, and maybe it is, but if you were in the moment as I was, with the snow, the silence, and the solitude, you might have done the same thing. I continued back through the way I came, and it was almost like I hadn't been there before, because with the snow coming down as well as it was, you could barely see my footprints I had left 15 minutes earlier. I stopped again next to the stream, which was half ice at this point, to take in the unique experience of sights and sounds one more time, and then proceeded to finish my adventure by coming back to my residence hall, which happened around 3:45 or so.

At no point from when I left the building to when I came back did I encounter anyone or see anything person-operated. It was quite an experience, one that can only be equated to a dream-like sequence. After having such an experience, my only advice to anyone is that if they ever have the opportunity that I had to walk around campus at night during the winter, with the snow, the frigid temperatures and the occasional gust of wind, take it. Drop whatever it is that you are doing, get bundled up, and go. It is something that you will never forget, because God knows, I certainly won't.

Name: Matt James
Hometown: Terre Haute, IN
Degree and Major: M.S. , Counseling and Counselor Education
Graduation Year: 2008

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