Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Signs of Spring in a College Town

The past few days have been "unseasonably warm," to quote the weather man. Yesterday in particular was absolutely gorgeous--at least 60 degrees (Fahrenheit), sunny, good-smelling, full of birdsong, the whole ball of wax. I spent most of the day outdoors with a book, with a brief interruption for the good-bye lunch of a (now former) co-worker who's moved to another library on campus.

Today it was back to reality. The high temperature for the day was in the forties, and we'd already reached that by 7:30 this morning. It was spitting snow by 3 pm. Ugh.

I'm not depressed, though. I know Spring is almost upon us. The signs of it are everywhere. Yes, there are robins about and the daffodils are threatening to bloom at any moment, but that's not what I mean. There are three very specific things that occur here that I consider harbingers of Spring, and the first one made an appearance today:

  • Dancing Through: We must have an ISKCON temple nearby, but I'm not sure where. Every year at about this time a local group of Hare Krishnas take their drums, cymbals, and flyers and wend their way through the downtown area, singing and dancing all the while. The flyers are invitations to dinner. I should take one sometime, just to find out where they live.
  • Social Unrest: Each Fall, the student body's attention is caught by some sort of social/political issue. Sometimes it's global in flavor (when I went to school here, we were all hot about Apartheid and the fact that the university had investments in companies that did business with South Africa. A few years back it had to do with homelessness and famine), but lately it's been more about the atmosphere on campus: race relations, religious intolerance, free speech, things of that nature. An incident early on in the school year will get everyone talking. The campus newspaper will run articles and editorials about this incident. These are followed by angry letters to the editor. Momentum builds slowly throughout the year. Sometimes (like this year) there are two issues, and you won't know until the very end which one is going to win out. Usually right around the middle of April whatever-it-is finally erupts, and there is a protest on the lawn outside university president's office. Then, in a show of support for whom- or whatever, a large group of students set up a sort of vigil/camp, either on the lawn or in the student union building. They live there until they feel they've gotten their point across. Or until finals week is over and they must all go home. Sometimes on my way from one end of campus to the other I find myself having to thread my way through this impromptu village, and I always get the same warm, affectionate, protective feeling for its inhabitants. Nostalgic for my twenties, I guess, or maybe just for the innocent belief that a symbolic gesture could accomplish something.
  • Improvisational Drum (Semi)Circle: Campus and town are divided by a low wall that runs the length of the main drag. One of the class gifts many, many years ago was a semicircular section of seating (try saying that out loud) built into this wall. In the evenings, just as soon as the weather starts to turn (and stay) pleasant, a group of townspeople shows up here. Each one brings a percussion instrument -- hand drums and bongos, mainly, though sometimes there is the odd tambourine or cow bell. They set up there in that half-circle and play for hours. As the spring drifts on into summer, they are joined by a dancer or two -- different dancers each year, sometimes different each day. As far as I can tell it's just people who get carried away by the rhythm, take off their shoes and start dancing in the grass.
It's things like this that make me love living in a college town. I don't much care for the way everyone goes football-crazy in the Fall, but I do enjoy this part. Heard a shopkeeper say to a customer today as the drums and cymbals faded into the distance, "Geese are flying north, and the Hare Krishnas are out. Spring's on its way."

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