Capturing a Moment at Millikin
Late October always brings the enjoyment of a celebration of the written word called the National Day of Writing, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English. Each year, to honor this celebration, I have my students take a brief break from their normal essay writing duties and try their hands at being a bit more creative. I invite them to disperse across Millikin's campus and try to capture a few brief moments of time and place through their words and images. I hope you enjoy this year's contributions. - Dr. Michael O'Conner, Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois
On the brisk autumn morning of October 17, 2013, from 8:10 AM to 8:22 AM, I took a few moments to view the world around me on Millikin University’s beautiful campus. I leaned against a rustic, torn down wall next to Kirkland Performing Arts Center, feeling the ice-cold concrete against my back. While looking around I heard the faint rustling of pine needles above my head and the random chirping of birds in the trees over me. There was a feeling of calmness and peacefulness in the air around me while leaning against that cold concrete wall. The always moving earth seemed to stand still for a moment, almost as if still sleeping, preparing itself for the day fast approaching when students and teachers would be bustling about. Every so often I felt a sudden burst of cool air caress my cheek, telling me that autumn is finally here. I said hello to a fellow student walking by, noticing their body curled inward to ward off the chilly breeze. The world seemed to be slowly waking up by the distant rumbling of cars. Then, a sharp gust of wind blew through, sending leaves tumbling to the ground in a flurry. After that the once scattered chirping of the birds became more constant as they began a new day.
On October 17, 2013, at Millikin University, from 8:11 AM to 8:21 AM, I took time to observe and take in the scenery. I sat by lower RTUC and Griswold as I observed a solitary tree that had the base of its trunk stripped of branches while its bristles were thick near the top. It had a poor feeling to it as it leaned at an angle, not normal for trees of its kind. As I sat on the cool, damp bench, it was easy to hear the constant drone of the air vents in the building behind me. There was the distant hum of cars on their way to make a living for their families. The brisk breeze blew at the back of my neck, causing a chill to go down my spine. Not too far away was a worker clinking and clacking with his tool, picking up loose trash on the campus grounds. From near off into the distance, it was hard to not see a tree embracing autumn and changing the color of its leaves before falling prior to winter months. The area surrounding me was a dismal, dark gray as the cloudy sky blocked all the shining rays of the sun from beating down on the Millikin campus. All this, yet my gaze would still return to this tree. As it was, so it remained; it appeared strong and steadfast. Even with its unorthodox lean, it seemed to still look strong as ever as it began its preparations for the cold, dreary months of winter.
On October 17, 2013, from 8:14 AM to 8:18 AM, I stood in the middle of Old Gym, surrounded by wonder, yet I was filled with terror. Despite the gray weather and the cold temperature, inside the Old Gym was quite warm. The first thing I noticed was the dirty floor beneath me and the way the thick layer of dust and dirt shifted underneath my steps. Along with the shifting sound beneath my feet, the floorboards creaked from my steps with age. Each of those creaks seemed louder than the last. The sound of my own footsteps caused my heart to race, and I suddenly felt cautious of my surroundings. There was a feeling in the air that I was no longer the only one in the room. I looked up to the skylight, suddenly thankful for the dim light it offered me. It provided me the comfort that nothing was lurking in the darkness. Looking around, just to see if anything was hiding, I noticed all the old tables and chairs in various shades of brown that were turned every which way to fit into smaller spaces, saving a path down the middle of the room to walk. The room seemed cluttered at a first glance, but when observed more closely, it seemed oddly organized. The musty smell from all the old props and sets used in past theatrical shows filled the room, and I could smell the age within it. I looked over to a brightly painted tie-dye patterned door, it was very psychedelic with reds, yellows, and blues swirled together. It seemed a bit out of place in a room full of richly colored wooden furniture. I still wonder what is behind it. As I looked at the old wooden track suspended above me, my eyes were attracted to three wooden horses, carousel horses it seemed, stuck in the rafters. Although they were old and worn, I could tell that the horses had been beautifully painted in their prime. They seemed tangled up there, with no true purpose. I like to call the Old Gym the graveyard where props and sets go to rest after they have lived their lives on stage. There are chances that the props may be used again, yes, but those chances are slim to none. After standing there with an eerie silence, and the dim light no longer comforting, I decided I could not stay any longer, or my heart was going to burst from the ghostliness of it all.
On October 17, 2013, from 8:11 AM to 8:21 AM, I took a few moments to capture a snapshot of life during a normal day at Millikin University. It is an early, chilly morning while I sit and carefully observe my surroundings between Richards Treat University Center and Mills Hall. I noticed students wearing cozy, comfortable sweatpants and sweatshirts, including myself, to accommodate for the cold, breezy weather. They would slowly walk as if they were zombies to the cafeteria to get a quick bite to eat. However, there was one unfortunate student that did not have the appropriate clothing for the weather. He rapidly ran towards the cafeteria because he realized he made the costly mistake of not checking the weather forecast before walking outside. The brisk breeze was like a second alarm clock saying, “Good Morning, time to wake up” to the unprepared student. As the students walk to the cafeteria, they can smell the warm, fresh, delicious food that awaited them in the cafeteria. Their mouths can not wait any longer to enjoy the taste of decadent food that they are about to devour this morning. Around the students, are old dreary trees that are filled with wet, slippery, green leaves from the drizzly rainfall the night before. The leaves slowly fall to the ground and as it does, it seems like time is frozen because of how slow the leaves are falling.
On October 17, 2013, from 8:12 A.M. to 8:22 A.M., I took a few moments to observe life during a normal day at Millikin University. On my way to the Leighty Tabor Science Center, it was bitter cold and spitting rain. When I walked in, a warm rush of air hit my face, and I headed up the stairs to the fourth floor. Once I got there, I sat down and looked out the clear window with an exquisite view of Millikin’s gorgeous campus. I could see the wind slightly blowing a purple silk ribbon on the nearest lamppost, and old cars were rushing by on Oakland Avenue. I heard a smooth, faint vacuum noise while sitting in the stairwell, and smoke was rising out of the vents by Kirkland. One student was sluggishly walking around campus, while another older student was actively reading his paper, most likely due the next hour. A red rundown truck quickly pulled up to LTSC, and that’s when I noticed that every single one of the buildings on campus was made of red brick. Their unique architecture was striking to the eye. On the quad, there were patches of dead grass, and there were trees that were starting to let go of their yellow-orange leaves. There were two diligent workers outside: one was taking out an enormous amount of garbage, and the other was picking up trash around campus. Suddenly, I heard a door creaking open on the first floor, and a science student briskly walked in the empty staircase. He or she walked with a steady beat and entered the second floor. The next thing I saw was a small black bird. Then, there was another. And another. And soon, there were about 60 of them. They were all soaring through the air and were experiencing the exact same view I was experiencing. The way they flew through the sky was flawless and effortless, and I couldn’t help but think that I wanted to be one. Taking in the whole sight was comforting, warm, and peaceful, and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to just sit back and enjoy the lovely view.
On October 17, 2013 from 11:00 AM to 11:15 AM, I climbed the multi-leveled staircase to the fourth floor of Staley Library and observed the place that I find myself in so often on Millikin’s campus. As I moved towards one of the old wooden tables, a flash of orange caught my eye. A single chair upholstered in a bright orange fabric sat in the corner, seemingly welcoming me to the library with a cheerful and inviting, “come in, sit down, rest a while.” I continued towards the table, pulled out one of the wooden chairs covered in old pinkish-grey fabric, and sat down. I traced my finger over the well-worn table, riddled with initials and declarations of love, etched relics of previous students who also found solace in this quiet, almost hidden and seldom visited part of the library. Silence filled the building, apart from the occasional turning of a page, the sound of the printer coming to life and the slight humming of the fluorescent lights overhead. It was a sanctuary, a place to escape in solitude. The smell of ink and aged paper permeated the area, combining to form the familiar “old book” smell that I have always loved. Endless volumes of journals in various earthy shades sat upon the shelves, and I was filled with wonder at the thought of the infinite amounts of knowledge contained in such a small area. The windows high up in the wall opposite me gave a view of the overcast grey sky, reminding me that the comfortable warmth I felt now was restricted to the library. Once I finished in here, I would once again have to face the October wind that carried with it an ominous chill, a foreshadowing of the bitter biting winds of winter that were not far off. For these fifteen minutes, however, here, in this small sanctuary seemingly tucked away from the rest of the world, I was at peace.
On October 17th, 2013, from 8:13 AM to 8:26 AM, I sat in a shaded cozy corner and observed, more closely, a place on Millikin’s campus that is normally rich with the flood of people, but today was quiet and calm. I sat in a dark lounge in Shilling Hall beneath a flight of ornately designed stairs, more intricate than any others I had seen before. I could hear people’s footsteps creaking right above my head, the rhythm of which was uneven, although I attempted to get them to form a more systematic pattern. As the most recent stair-goers continued on, I could hear their voices slowly fading away. Downstairs I heard scoops of ice being dropped into cups of iced coffee at Einstein’s and could smell the pungent coffee grounds and freshly baked bagels. If I looked up from where I was sitting, I could see all the way to the top of the building and what a sight it was. As my tired eyes gazed ahead dreamily I saw a grid of ceiling tiles and one large bright light, which was all that was illuminating the dark stairway. My seat was comfy, being as it was a cushy blue chair without arms, and allowed a comfortable place for me to sit and watch life go by. At that moment I felt so warm and cozy, and if I had had a cup of hot chocolate from the fragrant and enticing coffee shop below me, the moment would have been near perfection. I sat and thought about how at one time, this little corner of the world we know as Millikin, had once seemed so foreign to me, but now I just call it home.
One single chair. One chair that throughout the entire day might have only one person sit in it, two if it’s lucky. But still, it is just one lonely chair. What is so special about this chair? What purpose does this chair serve, if any? Well, it does what any chair does, it lets people sit and watch. Some nights I leave my little hermit cave and join the chair to have another night all to myself. With smoke from a cigar billowing around my face, I just take the time to sit and watch. I watch everything, from the occasional car going down the road to the group of students not more than two hundred feet away, also enjoying a smoke. But on each of these nights I never join them, I just stay in that one lonely chair and watch. There are some that cringe at the thought of this, of being by yourself when there is the comfort of others within your sight, but that is the entire purpose of this one lonely chair. It gives me a chance to really be who I am, one person being by himself just watching and listening. I get to enjoy the little “garden” next to me, the feel of the night air, and linger with my own thoughts. So this one lonely chair will stay in the corner of Dolson Hall, ever watching and always welcoming those who want the time to simply sit back and watch the world.
It’s a chilly morning, the day of October 17, 2013. I decided to sit outside the track from 8:12 to 8:22. In these ten minutes, the world changes greatly. A crisp breeze passes over my skin making my nose runny. As I sniffle I can smell the fresh, pungent earth. This breeze causes steam from the Kirkland Fine Arts Center to rise and vanish in a hurry. It hisses as it goes. The morning is blissful. Morning rush has begun. Trucks thunder by on the surrounding streets. Everything is moving quickly. Biological rushes begin as well. Birds flit back and forth quickly trapped in a game of tag with each other. They constantly move and shriek out to one another. For some, the morning began hours ago. Three vehicles sit badly parked over the reflective yellow lines to the spaces. Two are trucks; the other is a car. Grimy grey, followed by the clean white of two others. Each vehicle glistens with water. The breeze comes back, biting my cheek along the way. It hits everything. The fence behind me rattles. It’s a forlorn sound that only plays in my ears. I am alone and shivering at the track. My breath rises in small puffs only to disappear after seconds. People, presumably heading to classes, walk around in the distance. A man picks up trash and drops it with a barely audible thud into a grey five-gallon bucket. The clouds above me are not pleasant today, but they are peaceful. Serene. They are grey. One person stands out. She is a mysterious stranger donned in a bright red shirt, brighter than the grey around her. And then she is gone. My friends wave from afar. It must be time to return to class.
At 8:23 AM on a chilly October 17th, I walked into the Aston Dance Studio and sat down on a black box shoved against the back wall. Immediately, I felt a rush of heat running through my body, warming my arms and face. I glanced forward at the mirrors at the front of the room, a ballet bar cutting into the middle of the mirrors. Farther up the wall, on both ends, were stunning stained glass arches, with a smidgen of light trickling in. I moved my gaze to my right and noticed two rounded pillars sitting in the middle of the dance studio. I stood up and moved in between the pillars, pivoting myself so to face the back wall. To the right, the area where I had previously sat, the mirrors reappear, paralleling the ones now behind me. I glanced at the painted black chairs and multiple black boxes, all lined up perfectly straight. I turned to my right and took in the elegantly beautiful window, covering half of the length of the wall. A stunning bit of light shined in, lighting the translucent drapes that were open a crack. The light illuminated the entire side of the room, casting a shadow on the cold metal chairs stacked against the wall in rows of four. The faint sound of cars rushing by made its way into the room as I slipped out the door, leaving the naturally lit, rustic dance studio behind for a different day to explore.
On October 17, 2013, from 8:13-8:22 a.m., I had the opportunity to observe a peaceful snapshot of life during a normal day at Millikin University. As I sat beneath a petite, colorful tree between the red and brown brick buildings of Gorin and Shilling Halls and began to record the time and date, I could hear the calm dripping of the night’s rain down a nearby drain. To my right I could see the green, intricate drain and felt calmed by the steady stream of noise. Beneath me, I could feel the dampened shards of wood and smell their earthly aroma mixed with the sharp smell of the wet pavement behind me. A biting breeze swayed only the longest blades of grass in front of me and the changing leaves above my head shuttered only slightly. For a brief moment the breeze strengthened and I could hear the soft pitter-patter of the once trapped raindrops being released upon the brown, dried leaves on the ground. Behind me, two professors carried on a friendly conversation, too faint for me to hear. Their faint words and quiet laughter danced in the air and filled the silent morning with song. Every so often, further behind them, the splash of tires on wet pavement interrupts the calm dripping of the drain, and interrupts that peaceful moment in time.
‘Twixt the times of 8:13 and 8:23 in the morning, on a briskly autumnal October 17th, I found a special place on Millikin’s campus, and attempted to ensnare it with words and a photograph. Here is what I found most interesting to my senses. Beneath a protective copse of white pine trees, there is a lonely, weathered wooden bench - out of place, hidden, and seemingly forgotten by the outside world. Perched on the wooden steps nearby, I shared its sheltered cove for a little while. The succulent scent of rain enlivened my spirit, and left a wild taste on my tongue. The taste of fall, like a sophisticated stocking, was hung with care on the brink of Fall’s stiff upper lip. It’s a brisk, no nonsense sort of smell, settling over the wet earth beneath the aroma of the damp pines, and their subsequent fallen needles coating the ground. The air is moist, brushing my cheek with a cool hand, pinched with mist, possessing a biting edge, bringing the blood pooling to my cheeks in a hurry. There is a natural stone paved walkway, apparently built just for this wee bench, the variance in shape and size of the rough cobbles lends a magical, timeless aura, assisted by the old fashioned lamp post to my right which appears to have made a field trip from Narnia. A warm brick wall surrounds me on two sides, front and left: one is the corner of Richard Treat University Center, the other wall is not so easily identified, bordered by a wall of denser pines between it and the Quad. Lush ivy blankets the small hill in front of me and seems to wash upon the trunks of the twin pines like ocean waves breaking on unyielding rock. Behind me, the looming figure of the Kirkland Fine Arts Center appears a hulking pirate ship from the stark grey of its surroundings, the effect enhanced by the steam slowly rising from it like a mysterious fog upon the sea. The utter stillness of a campus full of so many people is striking, beautiful, and wistful. The silence drapes like the delicate diamonds barely clinging to the needles of the trees.
On October 17, 2013, from 8:10 a.m. to 8:21 a.m., I took a few moments to capture the peace at Millikin University. As I sat on the cold, wet concrete wall facing the damp quad, I saw the wet hay, damp from this morning’s rain, that filled up areas on the quad that were pure mud, mostly due to some daring student’s mud sliding after a huge storm. I heard squeaking cars honking their noisy horns and quickly driving by. I saw a tiresome student walk by slowly with his head down and his hands in his pockets, knowing he has a busy day ahead of him. I heard tiny birds chirping to the left and right of me. I saw the green leaves beginning to change into reds, yellows, and oranges and knew that my favorite season, fall, was on its way. Though I saw the bright lights from the quad still on, I knew early morning was still upon me. There was small chance of seeing the bright sunlight as the dark clouds covered the whole sky. I felt a slight cold breeze in the already cool air. I heard the vigorous air conditioning unit from the cafeteria roaring to the right of me. There were not many lively students walking by, most were either in class or still soundly asleep in bed. I felt the coldness from the concrete and wind as I wiped my runny nose. I heard a little creature scurrying behind me in the wet mulch and plants. I talked to a lively campus worker that walked past me as he was looking briskly for any dirty trash to pick up. It was calm and pleasant outside and I enjoyed the peace before my day got started at Millikin University.
This is a place many students may never go; they may never have the chance to stop and enjoy its peacefulness during a hectic day at Millikin. But if they were to walk down the sidewalk past the library, they might notice a staircase. On October 17, 2013, at 8:10 on a cold wet morning, I walked down the damp staircase and found myself in a small, cozy looking courtyard. As I headed to one of the three black benches I noticed a small brown chipmunk scurrying in the plants, searching for food to store for winter. I took a seat on the first bench I came to and looked around. The ground beneath me was unevenly paved in dull red bricks, with small dips and holes here and there. On my right was an area with bright green bushes and a tree, still green despite the loss of some leaves, which hung over my head. In front of me there was a square hole in the ground. It was by no means deep, less than a foot. On each side of the hole there were large rectangle stone pieces that appeared to be like seats, it was easy to imagine a group of friends seated on the stones talking, maybe about school or their plans for fall break. On my left was another hole, similar to the first, but this one was full of sand and a few rocks. It appeared to be like a Zen garden, but one that had not been tended to in quite some time, full of old leaves and sticks. Around this hole were two more benches, identical to the one I sat on; no one occupied any of the seats around me. As I sat, I listened. I heard cars rushing by, one honked its loud horn, the sweet sounding bells of a nearby clock tower rang, the birds chirped their morning songs, a cricket chirped too, students walked slowly by above me dragging themselves to an early class, the door to the library opened, the cold wind howled, yet, it was still quiet. The courtyard was by no means the most beautiful place, with an orange caution cone occupying space, a satellite dish mounted on the wall, and dirt and plant debris blown around, but it is calm. Perhaps one day when you need a break from the madness of college going on around you, you will come and sit where I sat and simply enjoy a moment of peace.
On the day of October 13, 2013, from 8:10 AM to 8:20 AM, I took advantage of a chance to simply sit and experience a morning on Millikin’s campus. I found myself sitting on a retaining wall outside of the Kirkland Fine Arts Center, facing Shilling Hall across the quad. While there, it only took a few moments to realize the wall’s ledge had become damp from the early morning rain and I had to move to a dryer spot on the ledge. I noticed the muffled rustle of leaves as an unenthusiastic breeze rolled through trees. It was sharply cold and awakening. Below the trees were rusty colored leaves, scattered on the luscious green carpet of grass on the quad. Down the soggy sidewalk, a security guard made his rounds, giving off a sense of authority. As I looked above the trees, I saw a gloomy overcast sky, and I was sad that summer had come to an end. Even higher and out of sight, an airplane slowly crossed the sky on its way to the next stop on its busy schedule. In the trees, chirping birds made it known to the world that is was a cold, cheerless day. The lamps lined up along the sidewalk next to the trees still had a slight shine to them, left over from the night. After taking in a gulp of the chilly air, I confirmed the aroma of fall was all around. The plants, much like the birds, could tell the weather was changing and was packing up for the upcoming winter. The occasional student strolled by dressed in sweatpants and a sweatshirt, making her way to class. Just as I was about to leave, the sun’s bright rays finally broke through the fortification of the steely clouds. The slight shimmer of sunshine established that it was going to be a day full of potential. It was a great joy to simply sit and take in the morning life on the campus of Millikin.
Just as the sun is trying to push its way through the darkness of night, I sit down with my back pressed up against the cold, hard stone of Pilling Chapel. It is October 17th, 2013, at 8:10 in the morning, and I am here for ten short minutes. Slowly all around me the world is waking and coming to life. A student stumbles by, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, head down against the early morning light. I hear a loud beep from car doors locking as someone leaves their vehicle to start their day here on campus. Off in the distance one car horn sounds, long and lonely. The sweet sound of bells from a nearby church floats through the air reminding me that time is passing on. The brisk breeze ruffles my sleep rumpled hair, and my fingers turn red from the cold. Beside me the grey sidewalk is spotted with rain, and here and there a yellow leaf lies, having impatiently dropped already this fall from the still green trees. In the background an air conditioner is running, but there are still moments of quiet around me. These short seconds remind me of the silences I have experienced between words of the sermon at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and after the notes fade at the end of “There Will Come Soft Rains” in my choir. These moments of nothing are not empty but instead full of meaning and reverence. And as I quietly sit here, time is still moving on, my time here at Millikin University is drawing closer to an end, and here I am, finding my own path where many before me have also walked.
On the seemingly dreary fall morning of October 17, 2013, from 8:15 A.M. to 8:20 A.M., I sat down to observe the sights and sounds enchanting Millikin University’s campus. I rested my usually busy self on the cold hard steps of the marble statue of a man we hold dear to us in Illinois — it is the land of Lincoln after all. As I sat there, with the birds chirping above me in the trees and some more chirping fellas flitting around in the fresh green grass, I watched as students slowly started coming out for classes. Heading out from the dark quiet fraternity houses across the street was a boy with some piping hot coffee. Surely he was waking himself up to enjoy this beautiful fall weather. Although the sky is a cloudless blank light blue, there is color all around. Dotting the dew-covered grass in front of a red-brown castle-like building called Shilling is a collection of crunchy brown and orange leaves that have fallen from the towering trees above them. What a beautiful campus to pass while driving by on the busy street next to me. The cars were buzzing along to work, to school, to who knows where. A father and his daughter walked along this street, glancing over at the four-story building guarding students of Millikin’s campus, where he possibly hopes to someday have his daughter attend. Along came a man, clanging a bucket and clamping trash tongs, picking up litter in order to keep this campus clean. Soon after I saw two girls walking to class together, chatting away as they covered themselves with scarves to brace their innocent warm bodies from the chilly fall air nipping at their ears. They will soon be lifelong friends, as will many students who are enjoying this weather at Millikin University.
As I walked through the glass doors to the bottom level lounge of ADM-Scovill Hall, I was greeted with the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. I sat down to observe this calm, rainy morning on October 17, 2013 from 8:12 until 8:23 am. My table was surrounded by four festively-colored red chairs, and as I sat, I gazed out the window that offered little natural light due to the clouds that masked the sky on this chilly day. My eyes moved from the window to the asymmetrical, abstract ceiling that was paralleled by a muted green carpet. It was paired with industrial-like lighting, and colored with pastel blues, complimented by the wall’s greens and beiges. The LED lights outside the elevator on the ceiling gradually changed from green to red, then back to green again. The humming of Java City’s refrigerators held the food to be eaten cold and illuminated the shiny plastic of containers of chips, salads, and fruit. The perky employees chattered back and forth as they prepared for the day ahead of serving students. At a nearby desk, I heard the soft clicking of keyboards beneath the fingers of my peers, along with the hurried scratching of pens on paper. The printer spat out page after page, and a student with slumped shoulders approached to collect them. After a while, I heard the hushed coughs and sniffs of others enduring flu season paired with the raspy requests for breakfast at Java City as they were on their way to begin the last day of classes before the much-anticipated fall break.
October 17th, 2013, from 8:10 to 8:20 I sat on the steps between Perkinson Music Center and ADM/Scovill Hall and observed the life and activities of Millikin’s campus. As I sat on the steps I was met with a wet hello. The steps still clung to the morning rain and that rain now embraced me. It was a chilly October day and the clouds rolled overhead, a single carpet of silence with no hope of sunlight on this morning. The air reeks of worms that frantically try to escape their muddy graves. There was a chilled stillness in the air. Even the usual bustling birds seemed quieted by the cold, content to laze in their nest and wait for a warmer day to resume their normal flittering and fluttering lives. It seemed a lonely day as huddled students hurriedly hustled to class, mist flowing from their mouths. I nodded and said hello as I passed but received not one mumbled remark. Even the bench held no warmth for them as they rushed by without even a second glance back. My only companions are the lampposts illuminating this dark morning, offering some warmth, even if it is feeble. But, even that will not last, the coldness seeps deeper into my bones as I shiver to stay warm. I sigh and stand as I ready myself to return. A stranger makes his way towards me. I nod, and he smiles and says “Good morning”. The warmth returns to my body and I smile, even on days as dreary as today, there is kindness shared on Millikin’s campus.
The narrow opening in the back of Pilling Chapel presented so many possibilities. Before stepping in, it looked very dark, damp, and uninviting. The opening was barley big enough to allow a person entry. Perhaps that is what made it so appealing. Once I jumped down into the cavern-like space, I found it to be much warmer than the outside. It protected me from the wind, giving a sense of comfort, and it was quite silent. It reminded me of a city alley, very narrow and barren. The dead grass and fallen leaves that had gotten blown into the space by the unforgiving wind littered the stone floor. I could still hear the excited shouts of students, albeit at a more hushed level. The revving of car engines were now distant, hollow sounds. The ever-present horn of the train, however, still managed to be heard clearly. Cluster chords from a piano could be heard overhead through the large glass window. Millikin Women was rehearsing, yet I could only hear the piano. I reached out to touch the concrete wall- it was cold, like the air. I looked up and saw the wispy clouds pass over the triangular crack above me. The lighting was very ideal inside. Then the church bells began to chime their usual melody, and I concluded that it must be around 12:30. One lone mystery brick sat in the corner, collecting moss and leaves. My gaze traveled to the glass entryway into the chapel, about three feet away from where I was standing. A single chair faced the door. There was some sort of plastic liner that had come partway off of the door, and it was flapping around by some unseen force. It was constantly whipping this entire time, making a low, humming noise. When it suddenly stopped, I took that as my sign to go.
On October 17, 2013 from 12:39 until 12:49, I sat beneath a tree facing the great doors of Shilling Hall at Millikin University. These doors open up to the only large green stretch that is not used for a sport team. The tree that I am sitting under has most likely been here longer than most of the faculty and students have. It has seen students come and students go. It has seen numerous hot summers and icy cold winters. Students are excited as they are pulling suitcases, anticipating seeing their families and enjoying their relaxing fall break. Dried leaves are skipping by which is followed by a bone-chilling breeze. This is the indication that Illinois has entered the colorful season of fall. I can smell the cold fall air, which is a smell that is near impossible to describe. The sun is just barely peeking out from behind a gray cloud. Down the road, not too far, a train signals its whereabouts with a horn loud enough to wake one from sleep. On the other side of campus, church bells signal the time, quarter to one, and then the sound fades just as time passes. Looking back to the ground, I see leaves, shriveled and brown from the cold, concealing the green grass which is lying beneath it. The Quad’s green grass is the only place on the University’s campus that is able to remind me of the green fields at home while I am in the developed city of Decatur.
It is 12:40pm on a Thursday afternoon and most of Millikin’s students are in class. I sit in one of the greenhouses on top of Leighty-Taybor science building, feeling secluded. The room is small, but feels more cozy than constricting. I sit perched on the window sill with the sun warm on the back of my neck. Around me the sunlight spills through the encasing glass, across the floor and array of plants. The plants stand out, an assortment of green against the bland grey of the metal walls. The room has the image of an abandoned desert, with plants that appear think and sturdy with waxy looking coating. Several cacti stand out of the rest with their needles pointed to the sky like tiny swords. The room resonates with the distant sound of running water, like a small waterfall hidden somewhere in the distance. I shut my eyes and accompanying the sound of running water is the smell of dirt, rich and full. I can feel a slight breeze from the window behind me, but when I open my eyes the plants stare back unmoving. I am reminded only of the fact I am inside by the metal walls peeking out from behind the reaching tendrils of the plants, and the slight hum of the air conditioner hidden behind the running water. There is a sense of serene peace surround by the foliage, sounds, and smells of nature. I get up and run my fingers over the plants, just as they look, they are waxy and fat under my fingertips. I leave with hesitation to join the world of metal and commotion. However, I am reminded of this cozy, serene room only by the rough feel of dirt that still lingers on my palms.
. . . and the creaks are endless, ceaselessly running into the spaces of silence between them. Are they footsteps of long-vanished souls, or merely subtle shifts from wind and gravity? I hold my breath. The room is full; not only of props from past shows, but with the densest quiet I can imagine. It’s tense and eternal. I can sense it pervading every atom of the Old Gym, but I can’t find its boundary. It never ends, this heavy silence, and it is anything but what the term suggests. The sounds of this silence are so subliminal, you probably won’t notice them until you leave the premise. You shake it off like a dusty shroud. The main room looks more like an “I Spy” book than part of a college campus. More chairs than I have time to count sit on air, suspended from the elevated track abandoned when a new gym was built. Props, a piano with three keys that stick, a gilded coffin, and a tie-dye door add to the jumbled mess. The electric buzz from sparse lighting—an anachronistic susurrus—makes me feel as if I’m not totally alone. Sunlight wafts in at varying intensities, filtered by languid cloud shifts. Somewhere below music plays. It reaches me in muffled tones so I can’t make out the words. This is the first time I’ve seen this room in daylight. How much cheering did it hear? My ears ring with it.
I sat down and enjoyed a moment of near silence on the fourth floor of the Leighty Tabor Science Center at Millikin University. I sat in a warm greenhouse, though it was a chilly fall day outside of my paradise. I was surrounded by colorful plants as I sat on a hard wooden shelf. There were green and black garden hoses coiled around the legs of tables. I also noticed a rusty corkscrew half buried in gardening soil. The soft sound of water running into a basin full of shiny goldfish was barely audible. I ran my hand along a plant, feeling the soft, yet resilient, leaf. The pungent smell of plants wafted up to me as I observed my surroundings. Bird seed was strewn inside a bin, originating from a bag of bird seed punctured at the top. I saw a wheelbarrow full of gardening soil and tools that occupied almost a quarter of the room. Unused dental floss, looking out of place, had been placed on a table next to me. An empty green watering can lay on its side on the concrete floor. I sat enjoying all of these sensations and hoped that another student would be able to enjoy them as much as I had.
On October 17, 2013 from 12:38pm to 12:45pm I took a few moments to sit back and capture a snapshot of life during a typical afternoon at Einstein’s bagels. I opened up the white, wooden doors of Shilling Hall and was immediately bombarded by the strong aroma of coffee and the sweet sound of the smooth R&B music. As I made my way across the faded, blue tile to the old blue couches in the corner, I observed a young couple having a flirtatious conversation over freshly brewed coffees. The pretty young girl was fondling her bleach blonde hair, and the boy was toying with the plastic from an old cold drink, revealing the nerves he felt in this moment. Both have a nervous smile, but, after a few short moments, they share a tense chuckle together. The look of nerves is immediately taken over by a look of relaxation. Meanwhile, a few feet down from the couple, a boy sits alone on a worn, navy sofa. Escaping from the stress of classes among other things, he plays a Ninetendo DS. The orchestra of Einstein’s at this exact moment consists of the smooth R&B music, the small murmur of the young couple, and the sound effects of the DS as the boy in the white t-shirt and bright blue jeans leaves our real world and escapes to his virtual one. Amongst all of these sounds, I hear the coworkers making small talk, as they balance conversation with their usual daily tasks. Putting my life on pause for these few minutes makes me wonder what else goes on in the many other places in the campus of Millikin University.
On October 17th, from 12:40 to 12:50, I record my experience as I sit on the painted stool #4 in the A.D.D-inspired clutter that defines room K 17. Around the room, the tables are covered in debris and paint stains illustrate the use that the room has for students. A lone student bustles around the room using paint and pencil to illustrate her coffee bean t-shirt while humming to herself softly. In the background, the Millikin Choir sings an aria that seems to combine with the student’s own jaunty tune. As I glance up at the ceiling from my place in the corner, I can see finished 3D art projects hanging from the rafters that are displayed in all colors and shapes. Against the wall there are yet more finished projects that show a study in color in both abstraction and realism. Footsteps sound on the staircase telling that the teacher and other students are beginning to arrive, making noise as they retrieve their art supplies from the cupboard. The smell of paint, paper and Elmer’s glue fill the air as work commence and student’s artwork emerge from the bulky portfolios. As I breathe in the warm Kirkland air, I finish my observation of the messy, yet homey room that is K 17.
On October 17, 2013 from 12:38 PM to 12:48 PM, I stopped to admire the campus I have chosen to call home. I took a seat outside Perkison Music Center not only to rest my tired legs but to appreciate the beauty of the crumbling campus. Behind me, the purple and yellow mums of fall bloomed brightly adding rich color to the otherwise barren flowerbed. As I sat, professors walked by carrying the load of papers to grade while their students jetted off to their homes. The gurgle of water running down the drain took my mind off my comfortable bed awaiting my arrival at home and brought me back to the century old campus. As I continued to observe I became aware of the swiftly moving traffic traveling by, completely unaware of the beauty I was observing. The squeak of bus brakes disrupted the peaceful campus atmosphere of crickets calling and birds joyfully singing just as happy to be a part of the Millikin family as I was. Sleepy students trudged past, eye lids falling to cover their tired pupils, sleep edging its way ever closer to their body. My mind slipped away enjoying the warm sunshine casting its cozy glow upon not only me but on the campus. It cast its heavenly glow upon Staley Library, warming the red shingles of the weathered roof. Almost as quickly as I took note of this beauty, a cloud covered the ball of warmth like a blanket covering a bed. The sky now seemed grey like the empty sidewalks awaiting the feet of hundreds of students rushing to their next class. The sidewalk stretching in front of me like a giant serpent only provided passage to one individual who carried boxes of food for hungry students to devour. When he had passed I disrupted the peace of my resting body to tear my eyes away from the beauty of this campus and return to class with the freshly painted image of this place I call home.
On October 17, 2013 from 12:40 to 12:45pm, I took a moment to sit and observe a day in the life of Millikin University. I sat upon an icy bench in the courtyard in front of the Honor’s Lounge entrance. The short trek there led me down a flight of old, weathered and blemished stairs that had surely seen better days. The old rusted bench was situated in front of a sandy pit. As I sat taking in my surroundings the fresh fall breeze blew through the courtyard causing the hairs on my arms to stand with the cold air it brought with it. Several rocks within the pit were arranged leaving behind evidence of people come to the pit before. The sounds of cars racing by on the street still managed to reach me in the safe haven that was created by the tall seasoned cement wall behind me and the streak stained brick wall in front of me. Rain drops pitter pattered on the moss enveloped brick floor signs of the rain that had fallen only just that morning. Sunshine fought its way to peek through the darkened clouds to bring pleasant warmth upon the otherwise eerily cold courtyard. Two lonely benches flanked either side of the pit that was in front of me and reflected their years of ware with rusty seats. As the quarter hour approached the church bell rang its cheerful tune off in the distance, resonating around the courtyard. With one last glance before my time there was finished I glimpsed crunchy aged leaves lining the inside of the pit there from falls of years gone by. Once again the courtyard was left alone waiting patiently for more visitors.
On October 17, 2013 from 12:45 to 12:55 PM, I took a trip down Oakland Avenue at Millikin University to try and experience how college students interact with one another. As I stood next to the giant Millikin University sign facing “campus town,” as some of the students here like to call it, I saw all the little shops and restaurants that are popular here at Millikin. I walked past Donnie’s Pizza, where I inhaled the mouth-watering smell of pizzas being baked, heard the sound of music being played outside in the sitting area, and looked at the amazing graffiti captured on the brick wall outside the restaurant. The smell of Lock Stock and Barrel preparing meals for its customers clashed with the gasoline smell coming from the BP gas station across the street. I felt the cold autumn breeze fly past me as I walked down campus town and stopped to take a moment to enjoy the painting on the flower pots on the street. I walked past Cherry Berry where I could see students coming together and enjoying a cold cup of frozen yogurt in the brightly colored shop. I saw students leaving Jimmy Johns with their subs that were made “freaky fast” to perfection and watched them hustle on to their next activity. As I left campus town and walked across the street back to Milllikin’s campus, I turned around to get one final glance at the very place where many of Millikin’s students spend time going through their daily lives.
On the brisk afternoon of October 17, 2013, from 12:40 p.m. to 14:48 p.m., I watched a brief moment of life on the quad of Millikin University. I sat upon bitter, cold concrete, leaning against the sign marking the spot of what was once Machinery Hall. In front of me, the green grass was glistening in the sun as the last drops of moisture from the morning dew dried up. The trees at the opposite side of the quad were beginning to change colors into the beautiful fall foliage. A few yellow and orange leaves have already fallen, spotting the green grass with color. The calm, blue sky above me was picturesque with white, puffy clouds. I felt the cool autumn breeze sweep through the quad, rushing through the leaves on the trees and the grassy plants all around me. I heard the occasional chirp of birds that would soon be leaving before the winter season approaches. Sounds of vehicles came from all directions as people were heading to their destination. The thunder of a train came from the distance. The train soon arrived and quickly rolled by the side of the campus to leave again. A couple people walk by silently, either rushing to their dorm or car to begin fall break or slowly going to their final classes of the week. Everything surrounding the quad is in constant motion, but in here it solemnly still, peaceful, and serene. Sitting in the quad, I feel sheltered from the rest of the world. I am surrounded by buildings to all sides of me, separating me from the hectic and rushed environment on the outside. Beyond the quad, everyone was coming and going, but I was here to stay. The quad is the heart of Millikin University, the place where many students like myself call home.
On October 17th, 2013 I took the elevator in Leighty Science Center to the top floor where I found the Millikin greenhouse. I entered the far left hand side of the room found a partition where large plants were being grown. The floor, made of faded brown cement that sloped slightly towards a shiny steel drain, was wet and sprinkled with particles of dirt. It was not wet enough to gather into a stream but enough to distinctly color long streaks of the floor a dark contrast. The room was not large to begin with but had two long tables of waist height made of galvanized steel that took up two thirds of the room’s already small space making the room feel very snug and mildly enclosing. Ferns, bamboo, spider plants, and other bright green vegetation inhabited large beige pots atop the metal tables. The sun shown down through a shiny net that was placed on the slanted overhead windows to lessen the harshness of the sun for mild climate plants. I snuck my way back through and the plants caught my clothes on either side as made it to a small window on the opposite wall. The window was small, perhaps two and a half feet tall, and was framed by cool steel on the top and small white bricks on the sides and on the sill. The edges of the window were covered by a thin film of dust and dirt. I gazed out the window to see the inky black windows of Staley Library staring directly back at me. The Staley windows were much larger and all reflected a similar image of the building that I was within, giving the distinct impression of insect eyes. I began to become comfortable with the sun shining on my clothes, causing any upturned fabric to become warm as if it had been just dried. I glanced down and saw students far below with their jackets zipped against the cold, walking briskly with their hands in their pockets.
On October 17, 2013, I decided to take a moment to adequately appreciate a spot on campus I commonly visit. As I pulled open the clear door to Einstein’s Bagels, I was immediately enveloped with the warm and welcoming smell of coffee beans. I walked over to a small blue table and took a seat in the light brown chair and looked around at the scene before me. I saw the counter littered with a variety of packets and treats; so many one could barely reach over to pay the person at the register. Each object I looked at created stimulation for my senses, such as the sight of the bagels that practically titillated my taste buds. I felt the warmth of the bagel mixing with the smooth cool of cream cheese, the flavors so complementary to one another. The hum of the refrigerator that was filled with a rainbow of treats caught my attention. I stared at the fruit and vegetables in containers, waiting to be chosen and freed from the plastic that confined them. To my right I heard friendly but hushed chatter. A girl held a cup of coffee in her hand and sat with one leg pulled up to her body as she talked to a boy. The hushed tones were probably to not disturb the calm and relaxing atmosphere that this place so naturally emits. The workers, so used to the calm of the place, were not fazed by such peacefulness and continued to joke loudly with each other. The radio played a light female voice that soothed me; “just lean on me… Just lean on me” and, reluctantly, I rose up, surveying the scene one last time, to leave before I ended up leaning in my chair and falling asleep.
On October 17th, I decided to sit down by the steps of Gorin. One of the immediate effects of this experience was the chill of sitting on the cold, hard bricks. A small chilly breeze ran over my legs as I gazed at the yellow and purple mums. These bright flowers were accompanied by a mixture of brown and yellow leaves. In the background, I could hear the slamming of doors from the main parking lot followed by the sound of a honk to check that the car was locked. I could hear the footsteps of people walking by, mingling with the slight crunch of some fallen leaves. This was interrupted by some cars honking at each other in the distant intersection. The coughs of nearby workers began to harmonize with cicadas buzzing by and the calm chirp of the crickets. Hidden birds then joined into the song of nature, which soon stopped as more students walked by waving to say hello. As the footsteps started to dull, the sun came through the clouds warming the air a little more. This was complimented by the smell of grass, flowers, and a tint of gasoline. The leaves and grass performed their dance in the breeze and the leaves rattled to announce the arrival of fall. As I walked away, the sight of going through all the warm colors made this chilly afternoon a little warmer.
On October 17, 2013 from 12:44 to 12:55 PM, I sat on the edge of Griswold’s gymnasium, staring upon the absence of life at Millikin University. For the first time, I notice the quiet, the calm, and the peacefulness of an empty court. As I stare onto the gym floor, light creeps into the gym and distorts the large royal blue “M” that resides at half court. I look to my left to find the bleachers, once full of fans cheering and parents beaming as they show pride for their son or daughter, closed and pushed to the far wall with only one single blue chair standing out. I look to my right and the blue dividing curtain hides the other right court but illuminates the eight conference banners gently swaying as they catch a breeze from one of the four fans placed in each of the four corners of the gym. I close my eyes, and listen. I can still hear the plays my coach shouts out from the night before, the breathing of my teammates as their adrenaline tells them to keep going. My thoughts are interrupted as the door opens and the crisp chilly air of fall makes me catch my breath. Two men walk in, and their voices fill my ears. As they walk past, their cologne masks the smell of the sweat stained wooden floor, the rubber of the basketball, and that mouth-watering smell of popcorn coming from the now closed concessions. As I go to leave, I enjoy the silence one last time. The silence only an athlete can truly understand; for I knew that as the day went on, other Millikin student athletes would eventually return to this same place to enjoy the comforting silence.
It is the 24th of October, I stare outside from the LTSB east stairwell, watching students freeze as they pass to and from their classes. I note the time at 8:54 a.m. Surely these students will not be late to their first classes on this frigid morning. Despite the weather, a lonely squirrel scuttles through the leaves as a reminder that fall is quickly giving way to winter. I wonder where he is stashing his winter nourishments. My attention is sharply drawn to the roof of Kirkland Fine Arts Center. Another lonely animal, a bird, hops around the faded red bricks, most likely searching for breakfast. Perhaps breakfast for her unseen young? I am reminded of my own emptiness inside, I peer again through the glass, but sure enough, my stomach verbalizes its growing desire to once again be full. My eyes approach the grounds again, and I realize that the world is tranquil. Pondering this sudden desolation, a swift glance at my phone dismisses the idea that humanity has ceased. It is nine o’clock, which means it is time to learn.
On October 22, 2013, from 9:50 AM to 10:00 AM, I sat on the wide damp stairs in front of Shilling Hall to admire the cold, brisk morning on Millikin's beautiful campus. The bright color and newly-cut aroma of the green grass of Miller Quad could almost fool a person into thinking it was still summer, except for the small, yellowing patches present throughout the large field that crunched when people stepped upon them. The carefree laughter of students filled the quiet atmosphere while they hustled nonchalantly in every direction to and from classes. As a few students walked across the Ashtray, their laughter and conversation echoed as they stepped over that magical stone right in the middle of the area. I closed my eyes for a moment and listened to the resounding reverberation. With the breeze carefully caressing my face and the sounds gently grazing my eardrums, I felt as if I was on the top of a mountain. As they neared the stairs where I silently observed, their laughter quieted to barely a murmur as they discretely glanced in my direction, realizing they had a new audience to their conversation. After they left my vision, I eyed a few stragglers fumbling with the myriad of school supplies on their person as they rushed to class and watched them disappear into the rust-colored buildings surrounding the campus. Almost instantly, all sounds stopped. Utter silence invaded the area, all except for the slight whisper of the wind through the trees and valleys between the buildings. I was overwhelmed by a calm feeling. My stress seemed to be blown away with the chilling yet refreshing wind as I released myself into the serene atmosphere of the Autumn morning. My tranquility was suddenly breached when a door behind me abruptly exploded open, causing my mind to return to reality and be forced to move on with the rest of my day.
It is 12:41 on Thursday, October 17 of 2013, and I sit in a tree on the quad of Millikin University. It is peaceful, solitary, quiet, and while I feel alone, it is not a bad kind of alone. I feel comfortable here, despite the roughly textured bark of the tree digging into my thigh. As I sit, the sun emerges from behind the clouds. The radiating light illuminates the blades of grass beneath me and the dead, brown leaves that rest upon them. The sunlight warms my skin through the dappled shadows of the leaves and branches of my seat. A cool breeze blows through and sweeps the clouds back in front of the sun, extinguishing that warm light and replacing it with a chill that bites through the thin fabric of my sweatshirt. The breeze carries with it the musty smell of fallen leaves, penetrating my nostrils and filling my head. It feels like autumn. The leaves rustle and sway in that breeze and for a moment, I feel completely, peacefully, and blissfully alone. In the distance, a train blows its horn and the noise echoes in my eardrums. The bells of a clock tower chime. It is now 12:45. The breeze returns, blowing fallen leaves across the grassy quad and dislodging more from the trees. I watch as a leaf falls from the tree I sit in, spinning lazily as it falls to the ground. Below me, a student crosses the quad, books in one hand, a phone in the other, and she takes no notice of me. Two professors pass me on the sidewalk to my left and as nothing prompts them to look up, they do not see the freshman girl sitting in the tree. I am a solitary observer.
Bells chiming in the background, train horns blaring in the distance, and soft tweets and melodies of birds were the only audible sounds on Millikin University's campus at 12:40 p.m. on Thursday, October 17, 2013. The air was crisp in anticipation of fall, but the sun still peeked around the clouds on occasion, bringing hints of warmth. Inside the “Milli Bubble” a student long boarded past where I sat with not a care in the world. Other students quietly shuffled past, bundled in coats and boots, the heels of their shoes softly clicking on the cold concrete. Occasionally, you could hear laughter from students exiting Staley Library. Classes had begun, and Miller Quad was otherwise very peaceful. The leaves on the trees were starting to change colors, from a glistening green to a golden yellow. Some were scattered on the ground around the trunk, waiting for the wind to pick them up and whisk them away. The once exciting plants surrounding the steps behind Shilling Hall were withering, and I imagined what they would look like once it snowed. Fall break had not only begun for many students, but also for two professors who had started to leave the campus, holding an intriguing conversation as they briskly walked by. The quad was covered in hay patches, from a night of fun and excitement in the pouring rain and slippery mud. As I gathered my belongings, I took a one long look at Miller Quad from my now comfortable seat on the concrete. The memories I had already made on campus with wonderful new friends came rushing back to my mind. I knew that once Fall Break was over I would be happy to return to my new home at Millikin University.
On October 17, 2013, from 12:37PM until 12:46PM, I enjoy the outside view between PMC, the Staley Library, and Gorin Hall. I observe the scene on the X that is formed by the stone around the gardens on the patio of PMC. The gardens are full of old, brown and grey mulch and bushes that are turning from green to yellow. In front of me is the brown and golden sculpture that points in every direction. Birds and bugs, near and far, are chirping quietly. There are people walking leisurely to their next destination, a delivery man pushing his supplies toward Scoville. While all these people are out and about, I can’t help but notice that, surprisingly, none are using their phones. They are almost all wearing sweaters or jackets because of the cool, autumn breeze. Dead leaves roll across the sidewalks and bushes sway in the wind. The breeze is chilly, but the sun is warm. The afternoon sun is shining brightly and the sky is very blue, but clouds blanket both, occasionally making the day a little dimmer. Behind me cars rumble by and the sound of rolling luggage on sidewalks reminds me that in a few hours, it will be Fall Break.
It is 12:37 P.M. and there is no one here in concrete circle on the Miller Quad. At least, there is no one here but me, the lone person perched on the chilly stone wall. The light is low, and the breeze is crisp, but this October 17th afternoon is a quiet one. However, under close scrutiny, the world around me is brimming with activity. The clouds part, revealing the glaring sun that throws everything into a sharp contrast. A fellow student, late for his class, shields his eyes as he jogs past me. When the breeze picks up, the waving branches of the quad’s surrounding trees seem to be whispering something, to which the dead leaves on the pavement reply by rattling across the stone. Ever the attention-seeker, a train shatters the peace as it roars through town. A small flock of birds is unhappy about this new development in their surroundings, and engages in cacophonous, yet melodious, cheeping. The sun continues to beam its warmth down on me as I take in the clear atmosphere. It is strange, I reflect, that an autumn afternoon can be so full of life.
Passages compiled by Dr. Michael O'Conner, Millikin University.
Each student retains copyright, 2013, to their published text.