Home to me is a town so small it’s not even a town, it’s a hamlet. I live in Chappaqua, which for those not acquainted with New York’s suburbs is in Westchester or “an hour outside of the city!?”. Despite what some people might say, I don’t live in Canada or worse “upstate new york” but I will be the first to admit, I do live in the woods. The word Chappaqua means “the place where nothing is heard but the rustling of the leaves”. My house is surrounded by giant trees which are by far my favorite thing about Chappaqua, a town that does admittedly has very little else to offer besides a few restaurants and about a dozen nail salons.
As a kid whose parents refused to let her watch TV, owned no video games and could spend exactly an hour a week on the computer, I spent a lot of time outside in the woods with my brother. We would go for walks, make hideouts, chase each other with sticks and jump in leaf piles. As I became older and busier, I lost my appreciation for the trees. I seldom walked in the woods and longed to live in the city.
Before I came to Penn, my friend who is a current sophomore told me, “you miss the trees”. And now almost six months into my life at Penn, it’s true. After leaving home, I found that I do miss many things about Chappaqua but the friends and experiences I have here fully make up for it. But the singular tree in the quad really doesn’t.
I miss walking outside to my car at 6:50 am to drive to school and seeing the sun rise through the trees. I miss how green and beautiful the trees are in the summer and how the sunset hits the leaves in a way that makes them shine gold. I miss the giant piles of autumn leaves and crunching all the acorns that fall on my driveway. I miss waking up in the morning with school canceled and seeing a winter wonderland through my window. I miss taking a walk through my backyard and staring up at the branches to de-stress, because feeling small in comparison to nature made me feel so much better about my problems. At Penn, however, I feel small in comparison to my problems, rather than my problems becoming smaller in the presence of nature.
I will openly admit that this semester has not exactly gone the way I want it to. I’m fully aware that my problems are totally normal, they tend to be things like: having no clue what I want to do with my life or my summer; getting rejected from clubs; feeling lonely; not doing as well as I would like in classes and so on. But at the same time, it’s still a lot. I’m still struggling. Two weeks ago, on my way to visit a friend at Dartmouth, I sat crying in the Philadelphia airport, feeling utterly overwhelmed by everything. But I promised myself that at least for the weekend, I would leave my issues behind, or as I phrased it to myself, “my problems stay in Philly”.
While I understand that going to Hanover is not everyone’s reality or a one size fits all cure, it certainly helped me. I know that there were probably a lot of reasons for why I returned to campus feeling much happier than I had for weeks but for me one of the most obvious ones was that Dartmouth, like Chappaqua, is in the woods. To get there, I took a three hour bus ride from Logan airport that took me farther and farther into the middle of nowhere and I loved it. There is absolutely nothing to do in Hanover besides eat, ski, and hike. But I couldn’t have been happier. When I came back, my friends asked me how Dartmouth was and I kept saying “I loved it, it was so beautiful, there were so many trees!!”
We all say it’s important to get out of the Penn bubble and I fully believe that even just a lunch near Rittenhouse can totally change your mood. But these past few weeks have made me realize sometimes an even bigger step outside of the bubble is needed. I’m trying to make it a priority to take more time for myself to be in nature, even if it’s just a trip to the Morris Arboretum (which, full confession, I have yet to visit) or a walk through Penn Park to the river.
As the weather gets warmer, maybe I’ll take bigger trips, farther outside and hike a little bit. Although it is challenging, I do love being at Penn and living in a city where I have endless choices with how to spend my time. More than anything, I want to be in a mental state where I can appreciate my surroundings.