September brings all those familiar thrills. Organizations get in gear. Classes start. Schedules fill (and overfill). Harvard’s rapid pace of life sets in, and with it the contagion of a high-energy lifestyle. Telephone conversations get scheduled for the walking time between classes. Crosswalks become paths for tourists while students look for more efficient routes. Stuff to do, places to see, people to meet, no time to lose. Go, go, go!
Within all this exhilaration, it took me my first three years to find any inner calm. But learning to slow down — pausing to get perspective — saved me from late-semester burnouts. Finding a few convenient but secret, quiet places helped a lot. Here are some of my favorites:
The Science Center roof — Quiet contemplation is easier with some of the best views of Harvard Yard. Even if you don’t care one hoot for astronomy (though you should), go to a STAHR (Student Astronomers at Harvard-Radcliffe) telescope class — it’s only a couple of hours. A class sticker for your ID will get you access to the Science Center roof. You never have to look through the telescope again. Just watch the mad ants dashing around below you in Harvard Yard.
The Pusey “gutter” — No time to hike to the top of the Science Center? The ivy-draped brick “gutter” around the underground Pusey Library is right in the Yard. A set of steps between Loeb House and Pusey gets you to a hidden, alleylike walkway.
The Widener walls — Widener Library is rimmed with a wide ledge, perfect for sitting on. Landscaping shields a lot of the ledge from the Yard.
Gardens around Lamont — Between Lamont Library and Mass Ave. is a hidden garden. Go through the gate between Lamont and Wigglesworth Hall. And though not hidden, the landscaping between Loeb House and Quincy Street makes for a pleasant refuge. Few people venture through this garden since it isn’t on the way to much.
The VES film library — Most people don’t realize that Sever Hall has more than three floors. Take the back stairs up from the third floor and you will find a hidden oasis – part of the Visual and Environmental Studies Department. Sever’s modern-looking fourth and fifth floors include the film library: plenty of fun titles, and not just artsy stuff.
The Winter Garden — Maybe the ultimate place for respite is the winter garden in the Knafel Building on Cambridge Street. Walk through a computer lab in the basement and you’re in a Zen garden. Recline on one of the wall sofas, watch the clouds drift past in a big skylight, and listen to a waterfall bubble from within planted greenery.
It’s hard to find time and space to slow down in a stimulating environment like Harvard. But a few sacred places make it easier. Go to one of them, take a deep breath, and refresh. You’ll be better for it.