In Search of Falling Leaves

The Harvard shuttle and I have a love-hate relationship. Actually, it’s more of a hate-hate relationship. Whenever I need the shuttle, it’s never there; whenever I don’t need it, somehow there are three idling right in front of Pforzheimer House. (I’m convinced it’s a conspiracy.)

And thus, I am inevitably forced to always make the three-quarter-mile, uphill-both-ways trek from the hinterlands of the Quad down to the Yard. I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve taken the shuttle this term, and it’s always been by luck rather than design. (And it seems to be axiomatic that every time I’m arriving at Pfoho on foot, out of nowhere, the shuttle appears.)

I could go on about the shuttle and my quixotic journey to one day catch it from Widener Gate, should it ever appear there. But I’ve learned to appreciate much more about the campus we live on, something I wouldn’t have realized had I taken the shuttle every day.

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Autumn came early this year. The first few weeks of the term were much cooler than usual—a welcome change from my home state: sun-kissed, arid, ash-stained California. And with the sudden drop in temperature came an equally precipitous golden cascade of leaves, silently floating off the dying trees, coming to rest on the worn reds of the brick sidewalks.

I have never taken these leaves for granted. I’ve always been an incurable romantic—as an eight-year-old, I’d attempt to gather the pitiful amount of leaves in my front yard in order to make a pile to jump in, knowing full well it’d never work.

“You’re far too old to jump in leaves,” I tell myself now, but some part of me knows I’ll eventually do it soon. (And the more childlike I appear, the better.)

Autumn is a time of introspection for me. I used to take long walks down the Charles River last year, mulling over my transition 3,000 miles across the continent to Cambridge. The river became a comforting constant, as I would sit, watch, imagine, journal. My camera roll has stored photos of the river at nearly every point during my first year, reflecting its transition from liquid to ice, from sailing season to spring.

When I was sorted into Pforzheimer House, the potential loss of the river disturbed me. But I quickly realized, upon moving north, that there was an entirely other side to Cambridge I’d never fully explored, in the day-to-day tumult of my everyday routine. And it’s so incredibly beautiful, especially as the fall has wrought its magical changes. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana loves to talk of the “transformative experiences” Harvard holds in store, but nothing is more transformative than for me, a city kid born and bred in a La La Land of endless summer, to witness the wonder and spectacle of a New England autumn.

I have lost count of the number of times I have wandered through Cambridge’s neighborhoods, losing myself in endless cul-de-sacs or winding side streets, feeling the biting chill of early morning or late afternoon on my cheeks, and finding peace within myself. The scenery is perfect; the autumn makes Cambridge seem Edenic.

My mind has continuously gone over all the books, poems, and lyrics I have ever read that express the beauty of autumn, trying to describe it. My words fall short of those which have been said by greater, more talented writers. My camera holds ever more photos, but the snapshots of the river that characterized last year have been overtaken by photos of treetops, houses, and lonely, winding streets.

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Harvard can only be described as magical, regardless of its everyday issues and struggles (like the perpetually errant shuttle). But its joys are not without their stresses and pressures. Perpetual concerns about life after college, summer internships and opportunities, and schoolwork all serve as a burden, forcing us to look long-term and plan our schedules in byzantine, maximum-efficiency ways. Why take the 15 minutes to walk to the Yard when you can get there on the shuttle in less time (ideally) and get some work done on it, too?

I won’t say we should give up the shuttle entirely, especially Quadlings. The Shuttle might completely disappear (more than it already does). And this isn’t to say all students completely ignore autumn. Many students regularly go on outings, exploring Massachusetts and New England. But overall, Harvard lapses us into routine, and we ignore its uniqueness.

Most evenings, I trace the shuttle’s path on foot through Cambridge Common to the Quad. It is a canvas of reds and golds everywhere: not merely spread out against the sky, but in the treetops as well. The glint of the dying sun reflects off of the statue of Lincoln in the center of the Common and bounces off my glasses, temporarily blinding me. I turn and feel a leaf graze my cheek, muted to a red that more closely resembles the brick underfoot than the green of the tree it came from.

I would never notice this if I missed the opportunity to take a different route home every day and make time to “stand and stare” at the world, as the poet William Davies wrote. It’s the little moments, little discoveries that make me realize I am somewhere magical.

I hope we all take the time to realize this, to stand and stare, as the autumn transitions to winter. Because that’s what makes Harvard the magical place it is.

Robert Miranda ’20 is a Crimson Editorial writer in Pforzheimer House.

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