Last Friday I drove to Forest Grove for a coffee meeting. It is a pretty long drive from home so before heading back, I decided to wander Pacific University for a little bit. College campuses are always beautiful, as they invite students to consider them home for a few years. Following my phone’s directions, I worried just a little bit about finding parking and if I would be allowed (as a stranger) to wander campus. I resolved that at least I could drive around the blocks to see the buildings if things looked too busy to intrude.
Apparently in this minutes before finding campus, I forgot that the school year had already ended and that we are living in a pandemic so students would be gone no matter the exact date. I had traveled to a more innocent time along with another side of the city.
Parking was easy with hundreds of options along the streets. Rays of sunshine beat down while recently cut grass beautifully lined pathways. I saw maybe five others during my 30 minutes on campus, four of them walking along pathways like I was. If there were any employees on campus, they were hidden behind locked doors and closed windows.
A fountain was surrounded by six benches and a few rocking chairs. I imagined the last time they had been filled with students. Fans in a greenhouse hummed along, keeping young sprouts and aging plants alive; things that had no idea about all the changes beyond the glass walls. Around one corner I found a locked gate that was slightly ajar. The playground inside was too inviting to be ignored. Vines hung around, covering the walls and fences; transforming this corner of campus into a secret garden, complete with beaded bugs climbing the swing set and smiling toys ready for the sandbox. The next gate was to an organic background, with tools and benches ready for visitors. This time the gate was locked and shut tight.
I walked campus and thought and things that were missing. Students filling the residence halls, classrooms, and pathways with noise. Professors and staff members trying to find a new connection or resolve an old problem. Even the little bird house felt incomplete without anyone there.
I don’t know what will happen next fall for this campus, or any other in the country. I don’t fully know what will happen next week as the world continues to feel curiouser than anything Alice faced in Wonderland. I do know that I am glad spaces like this exist for students, professors, and staff to try. It is imperfect, but it is in progress. And for many, it is home.