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If a tree falls in a forest...

December 27, 2008

When I was at college, back in the Pleistocene era, I always wondered what happened to my small college town outside of Boston when I wasn't there. Lots of people would hang out on campus over the summer, and I stayed around during Thanksgiving break -- it was way too far to fly back to Los Angeles, my home base, in those days. But winter break intrigued me. Four weeks of cold and snow between mid-December and mid-January. Did the town just stop being -- what? -- a town?

My first post-interview trip to Oberlin, after I was offered and accepted the job here, happened during Spring break. I had been living in New York City for 17 years, and I arrived to what seemed to me an empty shell of a town. Where was everyone? Was this what the aftermath of a neutron bomb would look like (remember those?) -- no damage, but no people either?

I've grown to enjoy those periods when the students are away, not because I don't like having the students around, but because the town of Oberlin seems very calm, very peaceful, very Ozzie-and-Harriet-1950s. Oberlin doesn't stop being a town, but it becomes something of a different kind of place. Most of my favorite restaurants, Black River, the Feve, Agave, etc., all have posted their shortened holiday hours. Not much traffic on the sidewalks on College Street after 8:00 PM. It's positively hushed in the morning, makes you want to whisper. Gibson's, of course, remains open (every day except Christmas, leaving us New York Times addicts with no recourse but to read the paper on-line). But, even more than usual, the town revolves around that which is special (if simple) about Oberlin. Walking into Gibson's to buy my paper, I noticed a group of four tourists with cameras in full battle mode, recklessly snapping away as they crossed College St. (don't worry, no cars in sight), towards Tappan Square. Some aspect of Oberlin's architecture caught their fancy? A small demonstration beginning to gather at the crossroads? No -- Oberlin's famous albino squirrels romping around a tree.

The bitter cold has given way to a very premature warm spell. Lying on the floor in yoga this morning, we could smell the spring float in, just for a bit. It will get cold again, and the little town of Oberlin will continue to enjoy its well earned moment of rest at least for another few days.

Have a happy new year, everyone!

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Responses to this Entry

I really love the quiet times too. This may be a silly question, but besides grading papers and taking a bit of a break, what do faculty get up to during Winter Term?

Posted by: Aries on December 28, 2008 10:28 AM

Hardly silly. I think that we use WT for different purposes, like catching up on movies and sleep. But, more than anything else, we use this nice block of time for our research, writing, or other creative work. Many of us find it hard to write during the semester, when we only have a few hours at a time, so WT is great for that. If we can finish our grading quickly, that leaves about 4-5 weeks for research and writing. It's also a good time to catch up on obligations that have probably passed their deadlines: reviews which were due to journals or publishing houses, etc. Since it's quiet here, it's a great time to work!

Posted by: Steve Volk on December 28, 2008 10:49 AM

Another thing we use WT for is faculty hiring. This January the English Department is planning to bring six candidates (for two different positions) to campus for interviewing. They will be giving public talks on their work, which students are welcome (indeed, encouraged!) to attend. Watch for announcements.

Posted by: David Walker on December 31, 2008 9:30 AM

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