Snow and Silence
Written by Marcella Brylski
It was a busy semester. I had more classes than I could, realistically, handle—and that meant less sleep, less working out, and less time to spend just being. At risk of sounding trite, it’s sometimes necessary to recognize that for committed students, like many of us at Hillsdale, it’s often way too easy to neglect our physical selves in the face of an onslaught of commitments and deadlines. In the middle of this particular semester, I was reminded of the importance of reconnecting with nature and my own physical being by a surprising, winter afternoon’s trip to the College’s 190-acre recreational area, Hayden Park.
On days like these I’m particularly grateful for Hillsdale’s location in Southern Michigan. Lake Michigan gives us just enough snow for all the best outdoor winter activities. In addition to all the things you can do with the snow right on campus—like evening walks through falling snow and study-break snowball fights—the College provides some great winter equipment for getting out and enjoying the winter weather. Along with a plethora of summer equipment, like canoes, mountain bikes, and outdoor volleyball courts, Hillsdale students have free access to winter equipment like cross country skis for use at Hayden Park, where grooved ski tracks appear almost immediately after a good snowfall.
So, as soon as classes ended that afternoon, I rushed down the hill and made a quick change. Setting out into the sunny, snowy day from my house at the edge of campus, I ran up the half-mile stretch of road that leads to Hayden Park. The paved road gave way to gravel, athletic fields and Slayton Arboretum to cows on one side and country houses surrounded by trees on the other.
Just out the back door of the Clubhouse, a quaint, pale yellow house that serves as a storage space for outdoor equipment, I clicked the toes of my boots into the auto-release latches of the skis that I had picked up from a student worker inside. Then, sliding my mittened hands into the wrist straps of my ski poles, I set off through the grooved snow. I slogged up the long hill into the park, wound across Hayden’s open, rolling fields, and let myself glide down bright-white slopes. Suddenly, as I breached the top of one of the hills on the western side of Hayden, I caught sight of the setting sun. Breathing hard, I let myself slide to a stop. Standing alone there in the stillness of the winter afternoon, with the peachy orange and icy blue-white of the winter sunset streaked above the trees on the far side of the park, I was acutely aware of the burning in my muscles, the cold on my face, and the ache of dry, winter air in my lungs—in short, aware of the embodied self that I had almost forgotten in the middle of my busy semester.
Feeling vibrantly alive in this small moment of silence out on Hayden’s snow-covered hills, I turned reluctantly away from the glowing sunset and back toward the Clubhouse. While I hated to leave that moment behind, I knew that the wonderfully refreshing sense of my own participation in the beautiful world would stick with me, both through that evening and as an encouraging memory for the challenging weeks and months of the spring semester ahead. This moment in Hayden Park, a moment inspired on a whim by the beauty of a winter day, reminded me of the importance—physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually—of caring for our physical selves. Moments like these help to ground me, and remind me that I am not only a student but a human being; they give me the time and space to think and to get a helpful amount of distance from both social and academic stress; and, perhaps most importantly, being active and outdoors has at the best times pointed me beyond myself to the Creator of both me and the natural world, who graces us with the ability to enjoy the beautiful things He has created, both in the classroom and out of doors.
Marcella Brylski, ’20, grew up in the great state of Minnesota, where she learned to love sunny fall days and distance running along the Mississippi River. She studied English and Greek at Hillsdale and takes great joy in unexpected conversations with friends, discovering contemporary poets, and unearthing treasures at the local thrift store.
Published in January 2021