When I take the bus to and from campus, I read. I rarely raise my head from the page. Normally, it takes me forty or fifty minutes to commute from my house to the campus; sometimes, I take the longer routes to continue my immersion with the worlds of the printed word.
Some people ask me what I am reading, most ignore me. An old friend of mine once bantered me with objections to my bus riding ritual. Doesn’t my neck get sore? It usually does.
I have been riding the same three or four bus routes for the last four or five years now. I know every turn of the road, every bump in the pavement, every bus stop along the route. Although this may speak more to the state of the roads of Saint John than to my habits, none of this kinetic memorization would have been possible if I did not need to go to campus.
Another activity I partake in during the school year is hiking through the woods in the winter. One older man and his wife who had interrupted me reading at a bus stop asked me why I would risk a fall down a cliff or smashing my head off a sheet of ice just to get some fresh air in my lungs.
The truth of the matter is that I dislike the smell of dewed moss in the morning, the feeling of ants crawling on my ankles, the innumerable flies that interrogate my skin when I try to read sitting on a fallen tree during June, July, and August.
In the winter, there are no insects or dew-covered moss. Rather, a landscape of bluish-white snow sparkling in the sun, the feeling of the teeth numbing wind, the smell of deer feces, the sound of complete stillness – no chattering wings of bugs, no yelling of children, no gurgled retorts of druggies and drunks rampaging in the woods.
My brother and I usually take such hikes in the early afternoons. Sometimes, we hike an hour or two before I must leave for class. To be honest, I never minded the earthy smell of the forest floor that resides on my gloves or boots after such a hike. I never liked the odour of cologne, and so many memories are activated by the scents of various flowers that I’d rather smell like a rose and bask in the rush of memories of childhood associated with that smell than sneeze feverishly from a whiff of body spray.
I revel in these memories during the school year. Sometimes, when I sit alone in the basement of the Commons, I stare rather blankly at the books on the shelves. The colours of the spines of the books are what invokes various memories. Mostly, it is of memories associated with those bus rides to and fro campus, to and fro home: the three or four months I spent in 2017 enraptured with the prose of Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, my anxiety of presenting research in front of a class, the feeling of absolute thankfulness to the scholarship committee who awarded me a sizable sum of money to continue my education.
All these feelings may be in some fashion or another tied to the campus, but campuses don’t feel – individuals do. The university is merely just years in our lives, but it does – and should not – dominate those years. The great lesson of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time is to live your life before it is too late. Make lifelong friendships, read world-changing books, learn the thrills and pangs of being and falling out of love. Go for hikes on those trails, try out for the basketball team, make a fool of yourself in front of the whole school during a talent show. But for heaven’s sake – live!