Hillsdale is a quiet campus. It's small. It's isolated. It's beautiful.
Today is a grey day; everything's quieter, muffled by the mists. On my walk back to the dorm after my only Thursday class (an 8 o'clock) to return to sleep, I paused in the Barber House garden, as I often do. It's a remarkably lovely place, set between the two freshman girls' dorms: a little stone cottage housing the office of the park ranger for the Arboretum, suitably surrounded by sublimely lovely gardens. I'd never ventured into this particular nook of it, but my heart leaped within me when I saw a stone bench and remembered the book of poems I'd stowed in my bag that morning, perhaps out of a sort of impulse to keep my econ textbook company. It was a Billy Collins kind of moment.
Billy Collins' poems are matter-of-fact and impressionistic. I hear them in a lethargic, vaguely self-deprecating voice, a melange of absent-minded self-consciousness, whimsy with a measured tread. They usually begin in a weather-discussing sort of tone, and more often than not you're about to flip to the next page when the quiet violence of the last words, sometimes caustic, sometimes sweet, makes your eyelids fly open and you pause, sucking in your breath and glancing around at
the small plants singing
with lifted faces
The town of Hillsdale has more life in it than most of us were expecting. I've ventured in a few times now (it's not a long walk, through campus and past old houses with small, overgrown yards; across railroad tracks). One outing was to the Farmer's Market, a small affair but wholesome. The outing before that was a broader exploration. We started with lunch at the Sahara Deli on the edge of town.
Lo and behold, what we had been told by upperclassmen was true: within the unpretentious confines of the local Grab N Go is a world-class Mediterranean deli, owned by a Manhattan native named Mohammed Ali, selling shawarma wraps and feta by the pint. We picnicked next to the parking lot, in a field of course grass behind a red complex of buildings that looked like a cross between a farm and a rail station. The air was thick and warm, and our wraps were warm and spicy.
It was a strange meal, we all remarked. To me, it typified the difference between "metropolitan" and "urban". The place is unpolished, far from the high street, but it felt like home to me, full of the quirky, cobbled-together, real-life vivacity of life in the city.
First, the bookstore Volume One, with its cat, its Buddhas, its plethora of books from the 1800s that wouldn't have lasted the night in a Minneapolis shop, and its time machine (1950s refrigerator?).
I took note of the FOR SALE OR LEASE sign in the window of the Keefer House, a broad-stepped old building with a hefty lantern hanging above a front door of glass and wood, wide windows and an entanglement of metal steps and railings running around and beneath it. This, I dream, is the first future home of The Brimming Quill Coffee House (and performance venue, bookstore, artist market, gallery, community center... the whole bit). It could be the culture hub this town is yearning for! It could be a place of education and beauty, good coffee and fresh air, connected to craftsmen and creators around the world, the first plant of what could become a wide-reaching Brimming Quill cooperative, with sister hubs around the country and the world...
Hillsdale is a quiet town. It's small. It's isolated.
It gives us room to breathe. To create the space. To find things and decide how to order them in our imaginations. The whole story isn't given; it doesn't course over me with the pungent force of the Mississippi River cities that I'm from, cities that are always singing, shouting out from many lungs their colors and their loves.
Here I listen to clock tower toll and stroke a lamb's ear leaf growing in the garden of the Barber House. And I wonder what it means.