Before arriving, I’d imagined college: winter treks to the dining hall, cat naps in Oden, spring picnics by the Kokosing River. But the thundering buzzer of Wiggin Street Elementary School’s metal door never rang in my ears like a heralding trumpet. Yet, that door’s staggering click has pulled me, now a weekly volunteer, behind a castle of painted bricks. A bustling factory of delight. A seventh heaven. On the playground, the children spin me until the world becomes a Jackson Pollock color-wash of pinks and greens. I’m a ballerina, they say. A wolf who just ate her lunch of wood chips and dirt, an astronaut launching herself into space. The piercing whistle blows inviting a stampede of pig-tails and dazzling, light up sneakers. As the children file into the school, I see unclaimed coats that scatter the bare ground and basketballs that roll into thorny bushes, laying in glowing anticipation for the next day.
Before arriving, Kenyon graduates I knew made clear that winter in Ohio would greet me with cold mounds of chalky, plaguy snow. To anticipate spring, to celebrate its arrival like a new birth, had not occurred to me. Come April though, I began to watch spring’s angelic descent with awe; its sparkling reflection off the morning dew, its intimidation of the browned snow as it sheepishly melts away. Black puffer jackets take their place in the dusty depths of the closet. Strangers stop me in front of Wiggin Street Coffee motioning to a budding purple flower. The benches lining Middle Path shed a layer of frozen twigs and become occupied once again. Professors take class outside; their words soaked up by the quenched grass. Friends drive with the windows down, stretch out their pale, bare arms, and sing “Anna Sun” as if the whole town has come to see them perform. Californians lay on the burning concrete like a newborn baby feeling its mother’s warmth for the very first time. I look up and see pink and white petals fall slowly from blossoming trees. Suddenly, it’s snowing in April.
I spun the thread of time around and around until I was pricked by the realization that my memories of first semester were growing faint, taking their comfortable place in the nooks of my busy head. I had to prevent what I had found in Ohio from slowly washing away in the horizontal rain and the whispers of the flowing Kokosing. I’d never characterized myself as a photographer, but the snapshot of a camera seemed to me like memory’s eternal flame – the curative art to my forgetfulness.
Home for winter break, I scoured bulging drawers of tangled cords to find the needle in the haystack, an early 2000s Nikon camera. Tangible memories, I thought, like my parents had, would prevent second semester from being lost in the flush of adventure. And so, I became tethered to the pocket-sized device, mesmerized by its inauguration of my little joys: Snow angels and make-shift sleds behind Peirce. Georgia’s 19th birthday, a surprise sprinkle cake and rainbow paper plates. A Buckeye Classic in a waffle cone followed by several crisp, unwelcome sunburns. Summer Sendoff in the pouring rain, a haze of purple ponchos.
I was once overwhelmed by the campus’ scurry of activity. Now, as the puzzle of my first year nears completion, the hill’s eerie slowing pace fills me with dread for the summer months. Though these ten months went by all too quickly, the ancient camera stamps it in time for my dewy-eyed, nostalgic dreams.
I arrived in Gambier not knowing what I’d find in Ohio, if anything. But since my bronze key first unlocked Norton 228, I’ve been swimming in a stream of continuous, happy days. In two short weeks, my car will meet the auburn bridge with a clunk and then roll underneath the very sign which initially caused me such confusion. Welcome to Ohio. Find it Here. I no longer ask what there is to find in the state’s vast, restless distance. Instead, I wonder what else, underneath chirping colonies of birds and dim firefly lights, Ohio has to offer.