There Is No Better Time Than Now to Skip Classes
Time moves faster in the middle of the fall. Libraries that were empty only weeks ago now teem with nervous, tired creatures who labor for hours each night. Students in cafeterias anxiously drum their fingers as they wait on line, craning their necks to glance at the clock and make sure that they don’t waste any free moment between classes. The word “midterm” becomes a significant part of undergraduate vocabulary, uttered typically with that staccato cadence that might call attention to a crouching enemy growling threateningly just around the next corner.
In just a few days, the clock will wind back one hour, effectively rendering the concept of late afternoon sunshine a mere abstraction for the next three or so months. As the temperature slowly dips from crisp to cold to arctic, wardrobes will follow suit by losing color and gaining layers.
Can one combat the melancholic November night? Is it possible to get away from the intensity — work, weather and all — one last time before the inevitable winds of winter?
The answers to these questions are emphatic yesses. And they involve skipping class.
Certain premises employed thus far, which gaze selectively at the severity of November’s academic calendar and outdoor conditions, have tacitly misrepresented the truth of the matter. There is a broader picture beyond the narrow scope hitherto utilized. Exams and papers may be piling up, but they are not all that exists in November Student’s life. Winter may draw nigh, but not before an explosion of color with autumn foliage.
Autumn passes almost as soon as it arrives. For only a few weeks, just beyond the cement jungle that is Manhattan, forests of deciduous trees all but beg citydwellers to traverse their rocky trails and bask in the pleasing sights of their rolling vistas. Wait until Thanksgiving, though, and it just might be too late.
Take a day off from school to go on a hike. Seriously, a hike. Even just one afternoon is something. It is true that classes, tests, essays and grades are important (very important, in fact). It is true that writing for and reading biweekly editions of this newspaper, in all of its analytic, thoughtful, creative, data-heavy and critical glory, is worthwhile. But these things are not running away so quickly. They can bear individuals’ absence for a day.
The benefit is worth the cost. At the end of a semester, the most memorable moments are those spent in between the work: The outings at the end of a busy week, the Shabbos meals with strangers or even the hallway conversations between classes. These and other social interactions are fuel that energizes and reminds students, even in the lonely and stifling morass of real-life responsibilities, that they are more than just their academic pursuits.
Nature offers a similar respite. It is real in a way that intellectual studies can never be. It is unconscious and quiet, a world apart from the stuff of human invention or corruption. It is austere, beautiful and good for the soul. And it is within reach.
The Catskills contain many hikes of varying difficulty, and they are only an hour’s drive away from the City. Closer yet are the Hudson Highlands, which feature Breakneck Ridge and Bear Mountain, two hikes that overflow with young adventurers during the summer but which empty out during the school year. And for all the flack that New Jersey suffers, it is home to fantastic flora, fauna and seemingly endless hills around the Delaware Water Gap, including the wonderful Worthington State Forest and High Point State Park.
Don’t have quite enough time or means to venture far out? Take a break and stroll to a nearby park. Bryant Park and Fort Tryon Park are well-known, but there are other gems too. Just behind Belfer Hall, for instance, is Highbridge Park, whose paths wind through untouched schist rock and leafy bird-filled trees down to the East River. Walk half a mile north to find Swindler Cove, a little enclave surrounded by water with a fish pond and a sandy peninsula where ducks and herons gather.
As busy as November might seem now, the relentless clock will take a calming breath before the semester draws to a close. There will be plenty of time for serious studying and essay-writing before and during Reading Week. So push all of that off and put down this newspaper — just for a bit — and take a break in the colorful autumn outdoors. Even just once. It’ll be worth it.