While morose faces heaved books and belongings into idling vehicles others played hackie-sack and drank from red Solo cups from the south lawn behind the Garfield House dormitory. Students were not ready to confront the reality of a semester enhanced by on-campus living cut short by the coronavirus.
Williams College, not unlike hundreds of other universities across the country, was not immune from the disruptions of closings, cancellations, and quarantines caused by Covid-19. While classes continue remotely, small retailers and cafes on Spring street stayed open just long enough to accommodate the last vestiges of student life.
“The risk of having faculty and staff in huge numbers in one location is just too high,” said our attentive server at Pera, a delightful Mediterranean bistro in Williamstown. George and I enjoyed a savory mushroom appetizer and a cup of lentil soup while our server, no surprise, admitted to being scared of what online instruction would do to the business. We were her first – and perhaps only – customers at lunch hour.
The impact was also felt at the Clark Art Institute. But for a few security details and construction vehicles, the parking lot was nearly empty. As suggested by posters taped to locked doors, George and I enjoyed a free hike behind the museum in lieu of seeing an exhibit.
We happily discovered an extensive network of scenic trails traversing bucolic pastures and rolling forests, many overlooking views of the Taconic Range, Green Mountains and Williamstown. Highlights were marked by numeric trail markers. Trail maps were available near the bathrooms on the outside of the Clark Center. Dogs on-leash made us regret we didn’t bring along Fred and Little Renee.
Atop the meadow, we stopped to play inside the contemporary artwork of a Thomas Schütte structure: a building designed to replicate the asymmetrical shape of a crystal.
A few steps away, an obtuse boulder appeared which geologists call an “erratic” – dragged and deposited by a glacier as it melted 12,000 years ago. Then, a little later, a cluster of trees proved to be a rare discovery: birch, maple, and American beech grafted together by the accident of close proximity when all were tiny stems.
A couple warned us that we’d get our feet wet if we continued up to Scott Hill road and they were right. We looped back around and followed the Nann Path to an unexpected earthen gem embedded into the side of Stone Hill called Lunder Center.
The massive cubic-looking aesthetic stood like a modern concrete fortress among tall hemlocks. The giant glazed glass windows and contrasting textures had a wonderfully calming effect on me, in part, no doubt, because, as I read later, it earned a LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Unfortunately, access to the inside galleries was also closed. Sigh… Tables and chairs stacked neatly on the terrace cafe teased us even further.
The lesson learned today: social distancing does not have to be the end of the world. It’s as easy as a walk in the woods.
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