There are things about Kenyon which never seem to change — the ring of Harcourt Parish’s bell tower, the Friday night migration to Old Kenyon, and the Village Inn’s heavenly mac and cheese. There too are aspects of Kenyon which appear for brief moments as the years go round. Middle Path, once a river of mismatched orange leaves, quickly slips into a milky haze called the month of December. Sunsets perfectly framed between pine trees and the steep descent of East Wiggin Street give way to sunrises whose muted pink clouds trace the Lowry Center.
But throughout the cycle of seasons, one constant remains. It is the curiosity which draws the eye towards the nearest window. Through glass panes, Kenyon whirls with color and scenes, each season creating an image more beautiful than the last.
The Hill, before the academic year begins, carries the deep hush of rural Ohio. This summer tranquility originally drew me to Kenyon, but I’ve realized that the season’s most charming weeks are those in late August, when the campus comes to life again. My friends and I flood through the Peirce doors and carefully part around the seal. We absorb the air conditioning like precious gold, organizing tables and chairs to our liking. As we eat, I try to catch every last one of their words, fearing my friends might all disappear back into June and July.
Even so, it becomes difficult to hold my gaze anywhere other than the sky behind the window glass. The muted pinks of the sunset reflect off the table’s metal legs, giving a mystical air to the room. Excusing myself from dinner, I come up to the window and press my phone against it to take a photo, but only manage to capture the reflection of the vertical pendant lights. Realizing the scene can only be appreciated up close, I convince my friends to leave their plates behind. We rush out of Peirce and then stop suddenly to take in the grass blades dancing, squirrels doing pirouettes and friendships being renewed: only some of what summer in Gambier has to offer.
Before arriving for my first semester, I’d been told repeatedly that fall was the prettiest season at Kenyon. Given that my inner Georgian child craves the giggles and high-pitched screams that accompany a sudden fall of snow, I’m not sure I’m willing to name fall as my favorite season. But there is certainly something uniquely mystical about watching the campus’s tall covering of leaves transition into a mustard orange. The great expansive windows of my Norton dorm room are the place I like to watch nature’s artistic hand.
In the morning, I grasp each side of my off-white curtain and clasp the edges together with a purple orientation lanyard, so I can clearly see the Bald Cypress tree towering over the First-Year Quad. Creating shelter from the brief cold winds which cut through the heavy humid air, its falling ginger needles remind me that winter looms. I turn the metal handle inviting in the cool breeze and simultaneously the laughter of the pair sitting below my window. They are deep in conversation hidden under the orange leaves.
In the evening, I return to Norton and sit at my wooden desk framed by drawings from the Wiggin Street kindergarteners I tutor. I notice the cypress’s bristles have blown in the window through mesh gaps in the screen and turned brown on the chilled windowsill. When the sun begins to go down, a diagonal glow reflects on the panes. A friend group sits atop a picnic blanket, its blue tassels sprinkle the grass. A girl in a yellow dress pretends to read her textbook. She never turns a page, presumably distracted by the boy on the swinging bench and his steady guitar. When I close the curtains as I prepare for bed, my only prayer is that the leaves don’t fall as I sleep.
Tuesday and Thursday mornings, I know I can count on the Ascension stairs to be my morning workout. The swirling stairs which lead up to the third floor accumulate against my aching legs. Winter is finally here, and my clunky snow boots get caught between steps. Still recovering from the trek, I lean against the rickety wooden chair in the Nu Pi Kappa reading room and notice a neatly folded copy of the Kenyon Collegian on the windowsill. Hobbling over, I pick up the clumsy pages and trace the thin cracks between the sill’s misaligned wooden planks.
The windowpanes separate the quad into eighths, and the cold seeps in like water in a basement. Students trudge through snowy Middle Path, leaving Doc Marten-sized footprints. Some slip on a combination of frozen mud, twigs, and leaves, but their friends catch them on instinct. Those who choose not to reckon with a fall stay on the sidewalk and think carefully before making their next step. As I back away from the window, the professors carrying briefcases, athletes bundled in parkas and brave students flaunting shorts recede into small dots in the snow. I settle into my seat, and suddenly I’m left with only the static noise of a distant snowplow.
My roommate, a Chicago native, once told me that winter truly starts when you think it’s finally over. It’s true; spring in Gambier arrives slowly. Purple buds anticipate warmth and then whimper at the arrival of another cold front. Birds chirp and then go silent as if scolded by the breeze. Every Sunday morning, Harcourt Parish’s arched doors welcome me into a colorful world distinct from the gray haze that borders spring and winter. On the tiered choir pews, the reflection of Moses holding the Ten Commandments creates what I imagine to be the first spring rainbow.
As the service moves through the bulletin, I hear hollers outside from students begging their friends to wait up! The urgent sounds of shoes on the pavement synchronize with the pounding organ, and I wonder if spring has chosen this Sunday morning to show Gambier its balmy face. At the conclusion of the service, the double doors are pried open and the soft rain crescendos. Remnants of late February snow melts slowly and then disappears at once like embers of a dying fire. Friends drag each other to the same side of the College Gates, and girl scouts sell cookies in front of Peirce. In the hour that Harcourt Parish’s stained glass windows entranced me in their vibrant holy narrative, it is sure that spring has arrived in Gambier. This time, it’s here to stay.