1:04 a.m.: It is so cold that I can’t feel my legs. Poor decision to choose the stone steps next to John Harvard, but he’s quiet company and so I sit. He looks out over the snowy Yard nonchalantly, observing the small mountain ranges of snow that have formed between dry pathways. I have not really looked at the Yard in John’s serene way for a long time. Its magic is lost on me during the hectic daytime, as I rush to turn in a problem set or actively avoid tourists. But tonight, as I attempt to return feeling to my toes, I am once again enchanted. The Yard is surprisingly quiet for being the “historical and geographical center of campus,” as tour guides like to say. Maybe it’s the weather, or perhaps the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day, but there is barely anyone treading these paths except for a lone pair returning from a late night of work.
1:07 a.m.: I check my watch; I am here for 12 more minutes. I am taking notes about everything, and everyone I see, as if I haven’t walked through this yard a million times before. And it’s then that I notice the most beautiful aspects of this ancient place. The way the reflections of the street lights dance on the first floor windows of Grays, the strong facades of Matthews and Weld, their scale more comforting than intimidating. There is a melody to the Yard at night: the sound of Hollis’ doors thudding as they close, the distant urban murmur from the Square, the low conversations of neon-clothed Securitas guards. The aged gates that surround this yard create a silent safeness, serving as a threshold rather than a barrier; crossing this threshold from the outside world, you enter into an enclave of stillness and calm, of respite.
1:15 a.m.: Four more minutes. Still cold. Though I am convinced of the quiet calmness of this place, I am still expecting at least a sampling of errant, drunk freshmen to stumble by the John Harvard statue and consider peeing on it. I am mostly disappointed until a strangely dressed freshman male struts past. Clad in a hockey jersey and flags tied around his wrists, he is the most uncommon thing I’ve seen in the last 11 minutes. He swaggers more emphatically when he spots his audience of one, almost dancing past the statue and on his merry way.
1:19 a.m.: It’s time to go. I am mostly glad because my extremities are frozen, but partly glum to leave my observation post. There is comfort in knowing that this space is always here for me to pass through—to sit down and observe. When I give them the time, the minute details bring the grandness and the history of this yard to life. I am humbled and reminded of my enchantment with these tall elms, with these ornate buildings, with this still safety. I pack up and turn left, wandering down the dark paths and eventually through the gates.