Oberlin Blogs

No More Just a City Girl!

November 15, 2020

Aishwarya Krishnaswamy ’23

red leaves on an tall tree.
The fiery yet muted reddish-brown autumn leaves in Oberlin. Photo credit: Aishwarya Krishnaswamy

Fall’s chilly winds make my fingers feel slightly numb as I type. The swing's slow rhythm pendulates, just like the thoughts in my mind swing from one pole to the other. There have been so many moments/thoughts/ideas I have wanted to write down in the past few weeks. I would add those thoughts into my ‘inspirations’ board for later. But at the moment, I am almost compelled to talk about the connection to nature I feel here at Oberlin. 

Every time I trace my path from Stevenson (dining hall) to North (my dorm), I look up at the trees whispering to each other. I admire their changes while also mourning the loss of the beautiful flowers I once saw on them this summer. The bright red leaves turned pale yellow and are now lying on the ground crisp, brown, and rusty, crackling under my feet or the tires of my bike. 

Today, yesterday, and all days this week, Oberlin’s classic cotton candy clouds gave their appearance. The clouds are never imposing or distracting, but once I look at them, I mean really ‘look’ at them, they stop me in my tracks, yes me, the type A who can barely breathe before calculating where I have to be next. That’s another thing about living in a small town like Oberlin. It forces me to slow down, and nature automatically puts me in a mindful/meditative state. 

cotton candy clouds
Glorious cotton candy clouds
Photo credit: Aishwarya 

Every time I trace back my steps from Slow Train, balancing my chai latte in one hand, I once again look around, stare at the trees and the squirrels. I have never felt so positively compelled to write poems while I am amidst nature as much I do in Oberlin. 

Every time I trace my way back to a tree in Tappan Square, I now see the bare branches adorned with birds that would otherwise play hide and seek when the trees were fuller with lush green leaves. Now I can clearly see abandoned beehives (I think) and bird nests battling the chilly, aggressive winds of November. 

And again, when I trace my way back to the arb (more rarely on this path), I curiously eye the osage orange, aka ‘monkey brain’ due to its odd shape and size. Steering away from the tree and hoping for dear life an osage doesn’t plop on my head this time. I look at the few trees holding on to their last breath of green and yellows right before they too become rusty brown and bury themselves under the layer of white that is on its way.  

osage (monkey brain) orange fallen on the ground.
Spotting an Osage orange (aka monkey brains).  
credits to Prof. Laurie McMillin for introducing me to them. 

Every time I trace my way back to nowhere in the dark night sky with twinkling stars and if I am lucky under the subtle yet stark light of the moon, I stand still, arching my neck up high as I stare up and try to etch this wondrous sight in my mind. It will be a while before I can again see such clear skies unobstructed by one tall tower, one-upping the other, and the pollution from the numerous rickshaws, cabs, and cars make a blurry sight of any twinkling light star. 

Don’t get me wrong, Mumbai is home (my crib for the past 15 years of my life) and still my favorite place. Still, I have to admit I gave the glamour of city life more credit than it deserved and undermined the natural allure of Obieland a tad bit much. I remember being super excited when I received my acceptance letter from Oberlin but slightly nervous picturing myself in a small town in Ohio, completely opposite from Mumbai, a densely populated, buzzing cosmopolitan.

I wasn’t sure I could let go of the city life (more like the ‘convenience life’ ) I was used to, where the shopping malls and movie theaters would be just outside your doorstep. Numerous restaurants busy at 1 am, cars still neatly lined up one behind the other (or not so neatly, given it's Mumbai) even at 3 am. Once again, the city wakes up from its slumber that it never went to in the first place just when it's 5 am.  

My apartment complex celebrating new years's 2018.
My apartment complex in Mumbai during
New Year's celebration in 2018.

I would be lying if I said that I didn't miss eating malai kulfi (frozen Indian dessert) past midnight or drinking hot masala chai. And yes, it was initially a little weird to fathom that most shops close by 8 pm here (Oberlin). The later it gets, the fewer people you see (Fridays and Saturdays are an exception). But then again, as it gets darker, I cannot see my favorite cotton-candy skies, nor my cute squirrel friends or the koi fish in the pond. With time, I transformed from a night owl to a morning bird just, and I have to say I like chirping a teeny-weeny bit more than hooting. 

Additionally, I value the community that I find in this town as much as (if not more) than the sense of convenience/liveliness that a big city provides. At Oberlin, instead of swimming past a sea of people each day only to recognize a handful, I could feel the sense of community. 

Looking back, if there is one thing I could tell my giddy-to-go-to-college yet nervous self, it would be to relax and welcome this town openly, letting go of any preconceived notions of living in a small town.

Yes, the change is not easy, and yes, it is out of your comfort zone initially, but that’s precisely where the growth lies. That's what Obieland does once you give it a chance. It embraces you in a bear hug, making you love every ounce of it and loving you right back. 

Going to miss the onset of winter in Obieland this year but can’t wait to go back to Ms. Busy Mumbai, meet my family and friends, and devour hot and spicy home-cooked meals. 

Until next time! 

white Obie flower
Beautiful flower spotted at Oberlin.
Comment below if you know which flower this is
(I genuinely don't) .
Photo credit: Aishwarya 

With warm hugs and grateful goodbyes, 



Responses to this Entry

Lovely photographs and a gently moving narrative to accompany them... We had loved the college setting when we visited Oberlin last year, but never imagined that the town had so many other beautiful sides to stop & admire...

Posted by: Krishna on November 15, 2020 2:12 AM

Dear Aishwarya,
I just came upon your poem/essay about your new love for the town of Oberlin.
I really and literally found myself there with you….Tappan Square, the Arb, walking dark streets and seeing stars through generous elm and maple trees. You see, I grew up there, then returned for college, remained in Oberlin for many years as my husband, Tom, was in several positions in the administration, including the student life office as Dean. Two of our children were born there and had just started school when we left to move to Brown University. I took my love and precious connections and memories with me and now at the ripe old age of 81, I continue to feel great love for that small Ohio town, with so much important history. Much of our extended family graduated there so we are all grateful for our educations and friendships made there.
Did you ride a bike while there? I did from age six on! Used to ride from my home behind Tank Hall to the children’s room at CarnegieLibrary and rode home with stacks of books in my bicycle basket. It was a sense of freedom to do that as a young child. I rode to piano lessons, way across town to Morgan St. near the cemetery! Now my parents are buried in that cemetery!!
Thank you so much for your reflections and for allowing me to reminisce with you. I hope the rest of your life in Obieland is a joy! If you ever are in Vermont, I would love to meet you! And I would love to hear back from you, if you would like to.
With gratitude, Dorie Gilbert Bechtel

Posted by: Dorie Gilbert Bechtel 1961 on June 30, 2021 3:03 PM

Yes... I knew the flower mentioned above dear Aishwarya! Its a "Summersweet Clethra" Native to the eastern United States, it provides exceptional four season interest with its lustrous green leaves in the spring, spiky white or pink fragrant summer flowers, golden yellow autumn leaves, and interesting, delicate dried seed capsules in winter.

Posted by: Abhishek dhruw on August 23, 2021 12:28 AM

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