Finding the Gardens
My first phone interview for the Chronicle was scheduled for 9 a.m. on a Friday morning. Taking pains not to wake my roommate barely a week into our living arrangement, I slipped out of my dorm and over to West Campus ahead of my first class. I set out for the quietest place I knew in my short time at Duke, somewhere I was sure not to be bothered at that hour: the Gardens.
I took a seat under a magnolia tree by the perimeter of the big grass field and, with fifteen minutes to spare, waited. It was probably 8:56 a.m. when I noticed the lawn mower across the field, and 8:59 when I realized it was coming toward me. Forced to hurry to a more remote location, I was out of breath by the time the interview began, bungling my first question and spending the next twenty-five minutes attempting to recover my dignity as a neophyte reporter.
Naturally, the new spot I’d chosen was within striking distance of a sprinkler, such that every fifteen or so seconds the left side my arm received a drizzling of water. By this point I had simply accepted my lot, and ultimately the interview was a respectable, though perhaps not spectacular, one. I hung up, feeling proud of my first efforts as a real-life journalist, and promptly realized I had forgotten to record any part of the conversation.
In hindsight, that morning felt like a near comedy of errors, as if the Gardens themselves had set out to get me. I could not help but appreciate the irony of my frantic (and ultimately trivial) struggles being staged in what should be the single place of refuge from distress on campus.
This was a time of year when, like many other first-year students, my guiding philosophy was to jump into anything and everything with both feet. That episode with my first interview seemed a microcosm of many of the new experiences I encountered while acclimating to college, a disorienting, sometimes failure-ridden series of events that nonetheless felt like the greatest, most real things I’d ever done with my life. For this reason, I never really felt homesick—I suppose I never found the time to.
So in the weeks leading up to the day I came home after exams for the summer, it was hard to feel thrilled to be surrounded by the same angst-inducing scenery of suburban North Carolina where I’d spent high school, working the same job I’d worked last summer and the summer before that and the summer before that, no longer absorbed in the constant hustle of college life. At a place like Duke, the concept of “settling down,” even just a bit, feels foreign. (It’s telling that, during my post-exam beach week, I half expected to go back to campus afterward, resume studies and do it all over again.)
This mode of thinking, however, is an exhausting and sometimes alienating one. As much as a side of my personality craves the constant action and busy-ness offered by Duke, that can’t be fulfilled without an equal measure of contentment and security—a fact I realized for the first time when, flat on my back for 36 hours with a bout of the flu in the middle of February, I found myself missing the comfort of my bed at home, the suburban scenery, the absence of constant hustle.
In the weeks since I’ve been at home I have had to train myself, in some sense, to relax. I have learned to appreciate the change in the pace of life, reflecting on a year that was eventful (to say the least) and coming away with an enhanced sense of readiness for the year to come.
Recently, a friend and I set out for the North Carolina Art Museum’s outdoor park late at night. Hardly a five minute drive from the center of downtown Raleigh, it’s an antidote to its post-industrial environs, the kind of place that demands serenity. That night a storm brewed just close enough to spatter us with some raindrops, and for the first time in quite some time I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular.
“I wish we had a place like this at Duke,” I remarked.
Then again, maybe we do—only, the last time I’d paid it a visit, I’d been interrupted by a lawn mower and doused by a sprinkler. I hadn’t really been there since. I suppose I never found the time to.
Will Atkinson is a Trinity sophomore and Recess Editor for The Chronicle v. 113.