Hiram College

Written by Spencer Goodheart ’18

While preparing for final four-week rush to the end of the semester, my friend, Thea, asked me if I wanted to help her fill bird feeders at the field station after class.  At first, my instincts told me to use the same response that I’ve used countless times in my three years at Hiram.  The infamously polite “Oh, that sounds great, but I’ve got a lot of work to do.”  But as the words slipped out, I found myself cutting the sentence in half, snapping my jaws shut.

“That sounds great,” I said, nodding.

“Great,” she said.  “See you in an hour.”

As she made her way out, I looked down at my watch.  2:20 pm.  What was I doing?  I had assignments to complete—philosophy paper by the end of the week, labs from biology to look over, stories to write for fiction, and, worst of all, the fast approaching senior capstone to worry about.  These things—turned ugly and terrifying by time—lurked inside my brain, feasting on free time and relaxation.  To be honest, I don’t know what made me agree to go with her.  Maybe it was the weather, one of the first dreary days ushered in by October, or maybe it was the exhaustion of the last week catching up with me.  Or maybe the idea of a nice walk just sounded nice.  Either way, there was no turning back.

An hour passed by, and I was ready to go.  For the trek, I had on my new boots, a ragged sweatshirt, and a pair of shamefully underused gym shorts.  I’ve seen the biology department adopt the same outfit, and I felt oddly parental.  As I admired my fatherly appearance in the mirror, my phone buzzed.  Outside across the street.  U coming? the message read.  Confirming, I stuffed the device back into my pocket before heading down the stairs and out the door.

Sheets of gray clouds stretched endlessly overhead as we rolled down the road.  They didn’t carry the threatening darkness of a downpour, but it made me wish I had brought an umbrella.  Still, the clouds gave me something else to think about other than my assignments, which was nice.

I’ve only been to the field station once before during a three-week course studying insects and their interactions with society.  Our professor sent us on a short field trip to see buckets full of wriggling mealworms in different stages of life.  That was late December, when the place was silent except for the crunching of snow under our boots.  Now, the station was decorated with the reds and yellows of October, birdsong flitting from the trees.  Parking along a gravel road, she asked me if I could help her carry the feed buckets to the rover, pointing to a small, hideously orange four-wheeler.  Once we loaded up, Thea started the janky jeep, zooming off along a trail, heading deep into the woods.

Even though the tranquility was interrupted by the angry engine of our forest taxi, I drifted into a leisurely coma, watching thick shrubs and trees drift by.  The signs of autumn blurred into a stream of color against the sky, and so did my thoughts as well.  It felt like the further we puttered from Hiram, the further my problems seemed to become.

You see, while I think Hiram excels in education, boasting an incredibly small class sizes and opportunities to interact with professors, the college cannot escape its size.  I would hesitate to call it cramped, but the fact that I can walk from one end to the other in under five minutes tends to make it feel like a zoo enclosure rather than a campus.  Sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m unable to separate myself from an assignment that’s giving me a headache.  Sure, I could go to the library or the Kennedy center, or try to blow off some steam at the track, I’m still on campus.  Even the bar (which is used as a last resort), sits dangerously close to Gerstacker.  It is this perception, combined with the weight of papers and projects, that puts me, and many other students, under the illusion that we simply don’t have time to leave, even when we do.

My trip to the field station was, quite literally, a breath of fresh air.  As my friend drove deeper into the woods, a smell hit me so hard it sent me into a coughing fit.  It was the smell of a forest winding down for winter—plants beginning to mold, wet leaves carpeting soil, bold fungi munching on dead matter—all combining into the stench of nature, something I realized I hadn’t smelled in years.

After parking on a hill, we set out to find the bird feeders, tromping through plants that Thea named as we went by, some being invasive species, others just labeled as “a plain ole plant.”  It occurred to me if Thea were to run off for any reason, I would be utterly lost.  Our off trail excursion led us far beyond any recognizable trail until we came to the first of three boxes.  After dumping the old feed and replacing it, she pulled from her pocket a plastic container of mealworms, asking if I wanted to put them in the feeder.  Not wanting to let the opportunity pass, I pinched my fingers into the wriggling mass, shivering as their bodies squirmed against my skin before letting them roam free in the seeds.

The rest of the day went fast, but in a relaxing way.  I wasn’t checking the time constantly, watching it melt away like I do when sitting at my desk, struggling to figure out my workload.  I was at peace with how the day was passing.  The only regret I had was not coming out here earlier.  The existence of the field station was never a mystery to me, I just never thought I had the time to get out there.  In total, I spent three hours wandering around, and I felt almost completely relaxed by the time I got back.  And when she asked me if I wanted to come out with her in two weeks to do the same thing, my answer was immediate.

“That sounds great,” I said, offering a broad smile.