Spring in Oberlin is really magical. Before moving to Ohio, I never really understood why people always said spring was their favorite season. Coming from New Mexico, where we have a nice spring, but one that quickly turns to summer (and one where I have really bad allergies), spring was never my favorite season. But when I moved to Ohio and experienced my first Oberlin spring, I finally understood why people think spring is so special.
The winters in Oberlin can be long … really long. Things do start to thaw in March, with the rather unfortunate consequence of massive amounts of water just … leaching from the ground. Oberlin in March is one giant puddle. Although spring weather can start appearing in March or even February, spring doesn’t commit to being spring until mid-April, when the semester is almost over! Case in point: last week it snowed in Oberlin (and also all over the rest of country, including in New Mexico).
But the long winter is bearable, because Oberlin spring is worth the wait. It’s glorious. I know someone who didn’t go abroad in the spring semester because she didn’t want to miss the spring there. It’s that beautiful. So don’t let the long Oberlin winters put you off, prospies reading this post. The spring, when it finally comes, makes the last six weeks or so of the semester so special and inviting, and although it’s so nice out that it’s sometimes hard to get any work done, it makes that last part of the semester so much more enjoyable, especially when people sometimes start to feel burned out.
I’m really nostalgic thinking about Oberlin spring. Being away at home has its own challenges right now but missing the Oberlin spring is definitely one of those challenges. So what does Oberlin spring look like? The flowers are just ridiculous, and every spring my camera roll fills with countless flower pictures. It’s honestly excessive, but I feel the need to capture all the beauty around me and I can’t resist! Emily just wrote a really wholesome post about spring flowers in Oberlin, I highly recommend you check it out.
My favorite spot to work during Oberlin spring is on the porch of Wilder, the student union building. There are several magnolia trees above the porch veritably dripping with gigantic pink flowers. They smell so nice and it feels like you’re under a canopy of pink. Plus, I can look out onto Wilder Bowl and see people lounging on the grass, doing partner acrobatics, playing Frisbee, “studying” with their friends on picnic blankets, or even slacklining between trees on the quad. When spring finally hits Oberlin, everyone rejoices and crawls out of their dorms into the sun to enjoy the breathtakingly beautiful weather and each other’s company.
Besides the spectacular weather (I’m running out of adjectives to describe Oberlin spring, seriously), there are a lot of events during the spring semester in Oberlin that are some of my most favorite things that happen all year in Oberlin.
The first is TGIF. TGIFs (if I can pluralize that?) actually happen for a lot of the year but are extra special during the spring. TGIF is an informal gathering that happens on Friday afternoons as classes start to get out. Students congregate on Wilder Bowl, the grassy space near the library in the center of campus. Bikes start to collect on the lawn, people play the aforementioned Frisbee, cartwheel, and get up to all sorts of fun shenanigans.
Often there will be (legal) beers for purchase for upper-classmen and someone will be DJ-ing to set the scene. One of my happiest days freshman year was going to a really fun TGIF with my friends, enjoying a (finally) warm day, and drawing with some sidewalk chalk someone had found. An extra fun TGIF bonus is to treat yourself to some ice cream from Cowhaus Creamery, the boutique-y ice cream store in town.
Another lovely outside event during the spring semester is the all-OSCA picnic. This just means that all the students who are a part of the co-op system on campus get together and enjoy a picnic together, with each co-op contributing some sort of dish or snack. In the past, this event has been a pig roast, where yes, a literal entire pig is roasted for the co-op membership to enjoy, but last year when I was in Tank Co-op, we ran into some budgetary and logistical issues surrounding the pig and had to go to plan B, a normal picnic on the Tank lawn. This was also so much fun, and I’ll never forget that picnic, surrounded by friends, eating yummy snacks, and watching a fellow co-oper climb out of a turret room window in the building to play guitar on the roof. That entire day was good, and I’m pretty sure I only ate breakfast food that day, and fully enjoyed every second of it.
One of the more unique and Oberlin specific events during spring in Oberlin is called Dandelion Romp. Dandelion Romp is a one-weekend contra dance festival hosted each year by the college. This event is so big in the contra dance community that people from all over the country come (and even some people from Canada), including lots of alumni.
For those who aren’t familiar, contra dance is a form of social dance sort of like line dancing and square dancing and swing dancing combined, usually to live folk or bluegrass-style music. It’s such an absolutely wholesome scene, and I always have so much fun at the contra dances, so an entire weekend dedicated to contra dance is awesome! And it’s free! The dances always have live music, but during Dandelion Romp there are often guest musicians who are extremely talented. Last year I was only able to go to one Dandelion Romp dance, but I didn’t wear good shoes (Birkenstocks=not ideal) and ended up dancing barefoot on the wood floor of Hales Gym. The result: a coin-sized blister on the bottom of my big toe. But was it worth it? Yes.
Even more impressive than Dandelion Romp is Folk Fest. Folk Fest is a huge Oberlin event that the Folk Fest committee takes an entire year to coordinate! Folk Fest is what it sounds like: a weekend-long folk music festival that takes place usually in late April/early May. I credit Oberlin Folk Fest for getting me into folk music and for fostering my desire to learn to play the banjo.
We’ve had some really well-known musicians come to campus, like Josh Ritter, who came my freshman year. All the concerts are FREE, and when the guest artists aren’t playing, student groups perform all over campus throughout the entire weekend. It’s not unusual to walk through Tappan Square during pretty much any time of day and find a student group performing on the Tappan bandstand, with meandering crowds all around, enjoying the music. The student groups are equally impressive as the guest artists sometimes, and it’s pretty common to have a student group open for a guest artist before the main concert, which is a testament to the sheer amount of musical talent on Oberlin’s campus. Folk Fest is always a somewhat chaotic weekend, because I always try to make it to as many concerts as possible, meaning I usually get almost no work done, but have an amazing time nonetheless.
And then there’s the Big Kahuna: Big Parade! Big Parade is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a big parade that winds through the town of Oberlin, with groups and floats and dancing and music. Lots of student groups participate, like the radio station (WOBC) or the Resource Conservation Team (the RCT), but there are also a lot of community groups like Girl Scouts, mothers against gun violence (I forget their acronym), marching bands from the schools, and even a group of seniors from Kendal, the senior living community near Oberlin. They have a “Lawn Chair Brigade” which is sort of like a drill team, but it’s the Kendal residents doing moves with foldable lawn chairs … they’re definitely a crowd favorite.
Students and town members alike line the path of the parade and watch it go by. One of my happiest Oberlin memories is of Big Parade freshman year. I was working with a community-based arts group at the time, Girls in Motion, which is an after-school dance program for girls in the Oberlin city schools. Girls in Motion was in the parade and we danced our way through, dressed in our uniform of red shirts, receiving countless cheers from onlookers. We walked right behind OSteel, Oberlin’s steel pan band, so we had music to dance to the entire way. After the parade ends, people disperse onto Tappan Square, where there’s often free food or things for purchase. I remember sitting down with my friends and enjoying the spring weather all afternoon, with no care in the world about homework, tests, or anything else. It was pure bliss.
Writing all this, I’m really nostalgic for Oberlin spring, which has so many happy memories associated with it. And honestly, most of those memories are less about the weather, and more about being with my friends.
Part of me was sad to go abroad in the spring because I knew that I would be missing a lot of my favorite events at Oberlin, but now no one gets to enjoy them because of the pandemic. It’s definitely disappointing, but in a sort of perverse way I feel less sad because I know I’m not missing anything—and at the same time I feel extra sad because I know a lot of students love these events and the Oberlin spring and are not getting to experience them.
That being said, this just means that now I’m more excited than ever before for my senior spring: to be with the people I love, doing what I love. It’s cliché, I know, but something about the springtime makes me sappier than usual. But the absence of these things right now just means I will enjoy them even more when I get to experience them again someday.
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