Outdoors on the river and the Green

We have come back to a campus that has changed in many ways, but one unexpected and nice change is the new pedestrian bridge over the Fox River. Last year there were abandoned train tracks where the bridge is now. They stretched over the river from the woods behind Trever Hall to the island right next to where the Lawe Street Bridge ends. 

   On the woods’ side, the tracks were blocked by a wire fence, but this fence did very little to keep us out. Many people ventured out on the tracks anyway. Part of the thrill was who knew if the rotted wood would hold up this time? It always had before, but one day it would give out. 

   Not anymore! Now we are safe from taking an unexpected plunge. The tracks are demolished, and the pedestrian bridge that replaced them is dramatically different. 

   Apart from being structurally sound, it is broad, well lit, new and shiny (except for the already-present cobwebs between each post), and access is easy from trails on both sides of the river. There is even public sculpture on the island end and a new “Yellow Lights Are Flashing” crossing to add to the Lawrence collection. 

In other words, while the old train tracks were exactly the kind of abandoned place only college students would frequent, now crossing the river is accessible and family-friendly. 

  You rarely see the bridge empty during the day — there are almost always joggers, cyclists, students, families and workers on their break enjoying the early fall sunshine. It seems the whole world is outside to celebrate the nice weather. 

   This is true on Main Hall Green and everywhere on campus, too. Even though there are only 800 students on campus this term, not even two-thirds of usual capacity, when I walk to Warch around sunset, I think I’ve never seen campus look this full of people. Crammed Freshman Studies lectures felt like a crowd; evenings outside this September feel full of people. 

   I never did understand Plato, but there is something about all the students outdoors, eating and talking in the golden light, that reminds me of the ancient Greeks. Is this our education then? I have not yet had one deep philosophical discussion in SLUG Garden, but I have eaten there with many friends, and I have experienced wonder when a hawk flew over us to land not four feet away. 

   All the nights when it gets dark and chilly but no one wants to go inside yet because we want just a few more minutes with friends, so we pull our arms around ourselves and shiver a little — these are the moments I will remember. It is good after a day deadened by screens to feel a chill in your body. 

   This season, the city has turned toward the River, and the university has turned toward the Green. Even when we cannot turn towards each other as we are used to, nature is open to us. I hope to see you out there.