Quintessential Kenyon: Student Life, Uncut

The Hill is Calling (and I Must Go)

Christopher Paludi
August 23, 2017

Recently, while catching up with my friend David, he asked me what was the most important thing to happen to me during my first year at Kenyon. I thought for a moment, then settled on the week I spent alone at Kenyon over spring break — specifically, I remembered finding the “Mother Tree,” a great ancient white oak in the north BFEC. I remembered how those quiet days spent walking, sauntering for hours, made me want to get out more.

This summer, I did get out more, hiking and backpacking around 100 miles. With my dad, uncle and older cousins, I even climbed Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48 — and although a key to backpacking is reducing the weight you carry, like a true Kenyon student, I found room in my pack for Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and brought it all the way to the top. While gazing out at America from 14,505 feet, I took a few moments to be thankful for my time spent at Kenyon, for the slow burn throughout the year that ultimately set alight my passion for the outdoors.

I guess I should mention that I hug trees. Literally, and not at all ironically. It’s an earnest practice I began at Kenyon during second semester, walking around an officially designated “Tree Campus USA,” when I realized how happy our woods make me. Kenyon is where I first read Thoreau and Muir, as well as took up old favorites Dillard and Frost. I read more in that vein upon returning home, singing with Whitman and tramping around with Teddy Roosevelt, but something wasn't right. I missed the campus woods where I read, the BFEC trails I walked, the Kokosing River I fell into, the green expanses where I would run in the vast, undisturbed country so near my door.

I think that although the buildings and traditions at Kenyon are wonderfully old, these things eventually change, and yet Kenyon is still somehow a timeless place. Sitting largely unnoticed high in a tree in front of Rosse Hall, watching the students below walk and read and throw around a frisbee, I feel that it’s not just the fact that students have walked under these trees for almost 200 years. Instead, I really believe it’s that red-tailed hawk chasing a squirrel, the flowers announcing themselves, the trees eternally welcoming you with open arms — nature is what truly makes Kenyon timeless.

John Muir, father of America’s national parks, once famously wrote, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” But that sentence actually continues with “and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” Conveniently, this is the perfect description of my situation as I embark on my sophomore year: returning to the wooded Hill, to Kenyon, to study incessantly.

As summer draws to a close, I’ve met the tops of a half-dozen mountains and become well acquainted with the Pacific Crest Trail — but it’s the Hill that calls me now. And coming back already feels, somehow, like returning to an old friend.