5 Escapes Into Nature at Northwestern
by Bob Sherman The Beaches
As a fervent advocate of Southside-living here at Northwestern, I’m going to offer an olive branch to my peers to the North: your beach is better than ours. I admit it. Especially for those of us interested in enjoying the lapping waves of Lake Michigan without the traffic of Sheridan forty feet away. While the two beaches are pretty similar, the noise from Sheridan diminishes the serenity of South Beach, assuming that you’re visiting to enjoy the company of seagulls, dip your toes in the water, and do something nature-y like contemplate the size of the lake and Earth and the universe and what it all means, man. The tall grass that lines the periphery of North Beach makes it seem more isolated, more organic, even if SPAC is breathing down your neck. The seagulls even seem friendlier. That being said, I’m not about to walk 15 minutes every time I want to go to the beach, so South Beach gets its place on the list too. So go ahead, visit both beaches, argue with your seagull-hating friend from the other side of campus, start a #mybeachisbetter war on Twitter. My advice? Put your phone down and just enjoy the feeling of your toes in the sand.
“You’re writing about good nature spots on campus? So, what is it gonna be… like, telling people to go to the Lakefill?” – Everyone I’ve told about this piece.
To answer: not entirely, but yes. I am going to talk about the Lakefill, and I know people know about it, but hear me out. People don’t know about it enough. If they did, any day over sixty degrees, the entire stretch of land would be shoulder-to-shoulder with throngs of students. But this isn’t the case, which leads me to my hopefully-not-too-preachy conclusion: we don’t appreciate the Lakefill nearly enough. It’s an incredible thing to have acres of trees and open fields, surrounded by Lake Michigan’s waters, just steps from where we live. But at the same time, it’s so much more than trees and crashing waves: it’s a refuge for students to get back into the outdoors and recharge. A place of escape for what John Muir called the “tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized” masses for whom the fresh air and feel of grass under their feet is not simply a pleasant distraction, but a necessity. Remember that you won’t always have the Lakefill. Remember that after four years here, you won’t necessarily live somewhere with this kind of sheer beauty. Remember that we are the people Muir was talking about.
Yes, the mythical Shakespeare Garden, renowned not so much for its abundant flora but rather for what a pain it is to find. But doesn’t the fact that it’s hard to find make it that much better? For the weary students feeling run down by the din of Chicagoland and the stress of that upcoming econ midterm, wandering into the nearly hundred-year-old garden is like a feat of exploration. I did go behind the observatory like my friend said. I did find that path that goes behind Ford. And I entered into an oasis of flowers and bushes feeling like Magellan if he had made it back to Portugal instead of getting himself bamboo-spear-to-the-face killed in the Philippines. You get the picture.
Once you get there, the navigation all seems worth it. The garden teems with plants, most of which are there because of a mention in one of Shakespeare’s plays. That’s nearly 50 different species, only a few more than your 11th grade English teacher made you memorize the symbolic meaning of when you read Hamlet. The plants range from vibrant lilacs and daffodils to fragrant rosemary and thyme. There’s a sense of seclusion that’s rare on our bustling campus. A feeling once you sit down on that semicircle bench and take a deep breath that the world is a pretty nice place. After all, a garden by any other name would smell as sweet.
South Library Quad
I know what you’re thinking. What is the South Library Quad? We all know that area south of University Library and north of Kresge with the sculptures and the trees and whatnot, but I’ve yet to hear a name for it. So here it is: my attempt to get something out there in the ether that rolls of the tongue more than That Area South of University Library and North of Kresge. So, yeah. South Library Quad. Tell your friends.
I still know what you’re thinking. Why is this on the list? In short, because it’s a cool spot. In long, because on a fall day when the leaves are changing, or in the spring when you remember that green is a naturally-occurring color, it’s one of the prettiest places on campus, bar none. The trees tower over the quad, leaves rustling in the omnipresent breeze, and for a moment, they can almost make you forget that you’re standing in the shadow of what is possibly the ugliest building in Illinois. But this isn’t the time or place for my rants on Northwestern’s questionable architectural choices. What it is time for is taking a moment to appreciate the best of nature on campus, starting here. Notice how bright yellow those leaves are, or how cool that vine-wrapped light post is. Because if you’re anything like me, you need all the positivity you can get before going to the library.
Conventional wisdom would say that you’re not really a Northwestern student until you’ve smugly sent a Snapchat of Deering to your friends from high school. But I would argue that: I say you’re not really a Wildcat until you explore the gardens that lie to either side of our most Insta-famous building. Okay, so maybe going to the Deering Gardens isn’t walking through the Arch or painting the Rock, but you get the idea. The gardens are peaceful and verdant, with creeping vines and rustling trees that provide a perfect setting for both late-night conversations and afternoon naps. Check out a book, descend the stairs, and enjoy your new favorite spot on campus that no one else knows about. Well, at least until you send everyone a picture on Snapchat.
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