landmarks

a walk through campus

The traffic lights at the intersection of Waterman and Brook change despite the empty streets on Saturday mornings, flashing red and green against the usually wet asphalt. Broken glass and crumpled beer cans catch in the gutters littered with fallen yellow leaves. In the quiet, a RIPTA bus announces that it is turning. A flock of tree sparrows peck at crumbs outside the entrance of Subway. I pause beside Minden Hall, watch a singular Toyota Corolla cross the street, and continue on my way to the Nelson.

My walk down Brook Street is comfortingly solitary, disrupted only by a foraging squirrel and someone returning home from a night out. Red Solo cups, along with an empty Flatbread Pizza container and half-filled cans of Pepsi, litter a few of the student house porches. A sprinkler pulses back and forth on a narrow lawn. I pass the row of rose bushes behind the Wheeler School, white buds reaching out to my fingertips. I hop over cracked pavement and pass the faded crosswalk at Euclid Avenue that’s recently been covered with construction markers, moving more from memory than anything else.

It is difficult to conceptualize this landscape as anything other than routine. When talking about university with people I meet, I do not mention these insignificant observations: the back street, the affinity I have for the little walks between north and south campus. When friends come to visit, I don’t take them on a tour of the awnings at 257 Thayer, where people smoke and write phrases in the dust on the nearby air vents, or show them the corner of Meeting Street that floods when it rains. Yet, more than Faunce Arch, University Hall, or even Thayer Street restaurants, the minutia of Brook Street is the reality of my time at Brown.

There is a certain selectivity in characterizing a university campus and advertising it as an aesthetic belonging to the academic experience. Brown University connotes red-bricked buildings, lacquered gates, and sprawling greens speckled with oaks and maples. Tours map out the bear sculptures, art installations, and imposing libraries. When I arrived at Brown three years ago, I pictured myself passing through the Van Wickle Gates, doing readings on the steps of the Stephen Campus Center, and spending evenings finishing homework at Blue State Coffee.

While I’ve passed and appreciated each of these College Hill landmarks during my time at Brown, my regular paths through campus establish more subtle touchstones for my life here. If it’s raining, which happens more often than not these days, the expansive puddle in front of MacMillan greets me as I walk to class. I glance at Sidney E. Frank’s overpass and count the circles etched into its glass walls as I make my way to Smitty B. Beside Caswell Hall, the smell of fresh laundry and the warmth of the dryers seep onto the sidewalk on my route to the Science Library. Brook Street lies beside them all, my unnoticed foundation for navigating campus.

My routine path has changed with classes and extracurriculars and living situations, with construction, new buildings, and even boredom. I’ve observed the permanent for-sale signs, the pastel-colored houses, and the half-hidden clinical and legal offices of Bowen Street, Prospect Street, and Hope Street. I’ve spent time studying in 70 Brown Street, in the secluded garden behind Kassar House, in the dimly lit hallways of Barus and Holley. These places are where I am, existing quietly beyond the polished version of Brown.

I turn before I reach the Field House, passing through the narrow entrance to Pembroke Field, which is scattered with rabbits darting across the open space. I pass another student leaving the Nelson and wonder where they are going, what they see as they walk through campus, what their landmarks are.