On Reading by Sunset Lake

On Reading by Sunset Lake

As a sentimental senior preparing to graduate within the month, I have been trying to spend as much time as possible in my favorite places around campus. I have many, but an especially beloved spot is on the hill overlooking Sunset Lake, right near the broken bench. I go here to read. I sit on the grass (which is currently long and sprinkled with dandelions and forget-me-nots) because the bench is missing several bars on its seat—sitting on it requires more legwork than standing. There are several other benches near the lake, mostly right next to the water’s edge, but I prefer sitting halfway up the hill where I can watch birds landing in the water and smell the trees of Sunset hill. Currently, the trees there are flowering, with mostly white and pink flowers. They could be straight out of The Lorax, had Dr. Seuss imagined and drawn slightly shorter but equally fanciful trees.

Photo by Natalie Gerich Brabson

The morning is the best time for reading near the lake. It is quiet, save but for sporadic birdcalls and the rumbling of golf carts and lawn mowers as the school grounds workers drive around to beautify the campus. The air over the lake is glazed slightly silver with mist. If I set my book down to watch the water or a waddling pair of geese and its covers become damp from the dew on the grass.

By midmorning, the Earth wakes up. The air is now clear as I look across the lake. I can hear at least two birdcalls every second; many chickadees sing with their nasally voices, and mourning doves coo in a minor key. There are other calls I don’t recognize, many piercing, others warbling. The air is thick with heat and the scent of blossoms.

I am reading Cortázar’s Rayuela (Hopscotch), in the second suggested order: starting with chapter 73, moving back to 1, and continuing in this meandering manner until reaching the “end” at chapter 131, which instructs you to jump back to a previously read chapter. It’s enormously fun to read, though I do have to warn potential readers about misogyny on the part of the narrator/Cortázar (or both—it is unclear). Nonetheless, the writing is beautiful (take this phrase from chapter 1: “…what we had called loving was perhaps my standing in front of you holding a yellow flower while you held two green candles and a slow rain of renunciations and farewells and Métro tickets blew into our faces”), and Cortázar creates an especially well-sketched world, which I am grateful to enter when I break from writing my finals.

Reading outside distracts me in a different way from when I read inside. I listen to the water running and the birds singing, but the non-human sounds are only distracting in the sense that they allow me to sink deeper into my thoughts. As I read, another part of my mind hopscotches through my time at Vassar, and I hope to commit this moment, these scents and sights, this stage of my life, to memory.

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