Traditions are part of our lives whether we create new ones or adopt old ones. I attended Mount Holyoke College and though I transferred and graduated from Wesleyan University, I feel the closest ties to Mt. Holyoke. As more time passes, I’m convinced that some of the reasons for my attachment have to do with many long-standing traditions at Mount Holyoke.
I’ve written here before about my love of and need for mountains — one of the few things I dislike about southeastern Wisconsin, which I now call home, is the flatlander feeling. Yes, there are hills, but the high point in Wisconsin is only 1,952 feet at Timms Hill, nowhere near Milwaukee. For a little perspective on the area I grew up in (western Massachusetts), my sister’s family lives on the hillside of Pomeroy Mountain (1,155 feet) and we can walk to the top from her house. From there, we have a nice view of Mount Tom, 1,202 feet. There are many other hills dotting the landscape in the area, and these “mountains” are understood to be babies. For the real thing, a drive north to the Green Mountains or White Mountains can leave a New Englander, who maybe can’t afford the time or cost of Colorado, Wyoming or Switzerland, quite happy.
Mount Holyoke has a long tradition — since 1838 — of holding a Mountain Day, a tradition co-opted later by many other colleges. It is a day when classes are cancelled, academic buildings locked and students are free to hike the nearby mountains, walk or simply celebrate and enjoy the unexpected disruption of routine. The bells ring out announcing that classes are cancelled and the word spreads in the dorms with a happy buzz. (At least, it did in my day, maybe now the students text each other. ) The photo below was used by the college a few years ago to announce Mountain Day, since those of us off-campus, can’t hear the bells of Abbey Chapel peeling for five minutes at 7 a.m.
Like many traditions, I didn’t fully embrace this one in my first encounters with it. Now, thanks to our wired world, I know every year when it is Mountain Day…and, as I write this on October 16, 2012, it is Mountain Day at Mt. Holyoke. I’ve grown to love that reminder to step out of routine, to take an unexpected, but much needed break. My life this year has been full of scheduled and wonderful leaps out of routine — an anniversary trip to France, writing conferences in Aspen and Sicily, and a recent jaunt in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. So, I know I write this from a place of exceptional privilege, and I know these kinds of options are not available to every writer reading this. Please know, they weren’t always on my maybe list either! I remember well times when I would have so benefited from giving myself a Mountain Day, but when I would have found that impossible. I went through times, though, where I could have given myself “mountain moments” and didn’t. My spirit, and my writing well, would have benefited greatly had I done it.
So, dear writer friends, if you can’t give yourself a Mountain Day, how about a few mountain moments? Breathe deeply and reflect on something that brings you true joy — a walk on a beach, a climb of a mountain, a latte or glass of wine with a dear friend…… Bask in your mountain moment and whenever you can, extend those moments, and plan a longer Mountain Day for yourself. Creatives need renewal — we need it to break through writing blocks (though I’m not a big believer in them), to gain new insights, to hear a character speak who hasn’t been working on the page yet.
I wish for you many, many mountain moments. May they become a new tradition for yourself. And may you enjoy many moments of happy #writing.